May 4, 2019 / 3:07 PM / a year ago

Qatar Airways says return to Syrian airspace part of overcoming Gulf boycott

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar Airways’ return to flying over Syria as its eight-year war dies down is part of its efforts to grapple with a nearly two-year Gulf dispute that has blocked it from using the airspace of many of its neighbors, CEO Akbar al-Baker said on Saturday.

Syrian transport minister Ali Hammoud said last month that his country had approved a request by Qatar Airways to begin using the country’s airspace for routes, one of the first airlines to do so. Qatar did not comment at the time.

Qatar’s state-owned carrier has had to re-route many of its flights since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with the tiny Gulf state in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.

The adjusted routes have increased the duration and cost of flights moving west and south of the Gulf, and in March the company reported an annual loss for the second consecutive year.

“This is all about the blockade,” Baker said of the decision, referring to the 2017 boycott. “We are blockaded, so we have to find ways to fulfill the requirements of my country. It’s very simple”.

Baker said the restored routes, which analysts have said include flights to Doha from Beirut and Larnaca, do not pose safety issues.

“You know Qatar Airways would not fly anywhere that is not safe. We have to protect our passengers and our crew,” said Baker.

Reporting by Eric Knecht; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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