Skift Take

Although Qatari officials maintain regional tensions won't cause flight disruptions for World Cup visitors, they still have no shortage of concerns as the tournament rapidly approaches.

Air operators flying soccer fans to the Qatar World Cup should have back-up routes in case of disruptions from delays or regional tensions, with around three million tickets sold for next month’s global event, travel and risk consultants said.

Qatar Airways is working to boost its workforce by 10,000 to more than 55,000, partly to handle the expected influx, and has cut flights to make way for World Cup fans.

Ticket sales for the showpiece tournament, which runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18, are approaching the three million mark and Qatar’s civil aviation regulator estimates 3.5 million to 4.1 million passengers will arrive, depart and transit Qatar in November.

Higher demand could strain resources like ground transport and hotels, while key airspace used to access Qatar has been disrupted by conflicts in recent years, driving the need for alternate routes, they said this week at the world’s largest business jet show in Orlando.

A Qatari government official noted millions of people come through Qatar each year on various carriers without incident.

“Air traffic management is expected to proceed as normal during the World Cup, which in recent years has avoided Yemeni airspace and other areas where safety cannot be guaranteed,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.

Matt Borie, chief intelligence officer of Osprey Flight Solutions, said operators should still consider Jordan or Oman as back up in case the airspace over Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia is temporarily inaccessible.

Osprey, which does aviation risk assessments for regulators and operators, has released notices on all three countries in recent years over varying airspace disruptions due to conflict.

“We told operators look, if you’re looking at a worst case scenario … do you want to be scrambling in trying to figure this out? Or do you simply want to say activate our Jordanian plan,” he said.

“We’ve had a number of clients that have asked for alternate routings,” said Henry Duke LeDuc, strategic development officer at global trip support firm UAS, during a show panel on the World Cup.

In September, Iran used ballistic missiles and drone attacks against the Iraqi Kurdistan region. A U.N.-brokered truce between a Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s Houthi movement expired on Oct. 2, but has largely held as negotiations continue for a longer and broader pact.

While airlines continued to operate safely in Saudi airspace – despite instances of Houthi groups firing missiles and operating drones before the ceasefire – they led to aircraft being put in holding patterns for extended periods of time, Borie said.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Other officials in the region pushed back against any concerns over tensions potentially disrupting World Cup travel.

One official at a major Gulf airline told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Saudi, Iraqi and Iranian airspace is used a lot with precautionary measures. This “is pretty much business as usual for us”, the official said.

(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Orlando, Florida and Andrew Mills in Doha; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh, editing by Ed Osmond)

This article was written by Allison Lampert and Andrew Mills from Reuters and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].


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Tags: airlines, aviation, aviation industry, middle east, qatar, saudi arabia, soccer, world cup

Photo credit: Qatar Airways plans to reduce schedules while the World Cup is taking place. Md Shaifuzzaman Ayon / Wikimedia Commons

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