Aviation watchdog stance vindicates UAE view

Aviation safety watchdog position shows global concern about Qatar’s misuse of international airspace to threaten civilian aircraft, top UAE civil aviation executive Al Suwaidi says

Saif Mohammad Al Suwaidi.

Dubai: A global aviation safety watchdog’s message to Qatar about its violation of international aviation norms in intercepting UAE civilian aircraft with military jets is a clear vindication of the UAE’s concerns about Qatar’s intentions, a top UAE civil aviation executive told Gulf News.

“During a special session, the International Civil Aviation Organisation [ICAO] reaffirmed that it was not the forum for arbitrating any political dispute but its mandate was to ensure the safety of civilian aircraft and their passengers – which Qatar is severely endangering through its actions,” Saif Mohammad Al Suwaidi, director-general of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), told Gulf News in an interview from Montreal.

Al Suwaidi was in the Canadian city to participate in the special session convened by the United Nations agency, after the UAE filed a complaint about Qatari fighter jets dangerously intercepting UAE civilian aircraft since the beginning of 2018.

In March, two UAE civilian aircraft, including a big passenger jet, were intercepted by Qatari fighter jets within Bahrain’s Flight Information Region and chased for several minutes. Two similar provocative actions were reported by the UAE earlier in the year.

“During the hearings, experts from ICAO confirmed the seriousness of the incidents and the risks to civilian aviation safety created by Qatar,” Al Suwaidi said,

Backing the UAE’s concerns, the ICAO board asked for proper coordination of military aviation operations to ensure civil aviation safety for passengers and civilian aircraft.

During the beginning of the ICAO hearing session in Montreal, Qatar tried to politicise the complaint and relate it to outstanding political issues, Al Suwaidi said. “But the ICAO, which is a technical organisation committed to ensuring peaceful civil aviation operations across the world, rejected that argument and confirmed the scope of the discussion was only restricted to the technical matter of civilian airspace and endangering civilian aircraft,” he said.

“The Qatari argument was very weak – they could neither properly explain before the ICAO why these interceptions happened nor why UAE civilian aircraft were specifically targeted and intercepted by Qatari fighter jets when dozens of civilian aircraft from other countries also use the same airspace,” he said. Evidence provided by the UAE proved that Qatar had failed to notify the UAE that it was carrying out such dangerous activities, while the Qatari military had also failed to coordinate with the UAE or Bahraini civil aviation services, he said.

“The ICAO also felt that Qatar lacks coordination between its civilian and military airspace operations and with civilian airlines. Further, all the cases of violations committed by Qatari fighter jets against UAE civilian aircraft were recorded by Bahrain’s radars.

“Therefore, the message from ICAO to Qatar was very clear: to coordinate effectively and in advance for any such military activities. The ICAO also made it clear that it will be monitoring Qatar closely and ensure that they do not try to commit similar violations in future, otherwise they will be in a very bad situation,” Al Suwaidi said. The watchdog’s observations highlight the level of global concern with regards to Qatar’s misuse of international airspace to threaten civilian passengers and aircraft of other countries, he said.

Expressing his alarm over the clear violation of Chicago Convention being committed by Qatar, Al Suwaidi said: “All these incidents happened in international airspace… The Chicago Convention clearly says that civil aviation must be segregated – there cannot be any justification for jeopardising the safety and lives of innocent civilian passengers on the account of a political or military dispute. This is the message that has been clearly conveyed to Qatar by the ICAO – in case it wants to pursue a political dispute it can take it somewhere else, perhaps at the UN headquarters itself, but not at the ICAO,” he said.

The GCAA will continue to monitor the safety of all UAE flights, and is also exploring all legal instruments available within the scope of Chicago Convention should a similar incident recur. “This includes looking at Article 54 of the Convention, which governs the settlement of disputes between contracting states of ICAO,” Al Suwaidi said.

The UAE will continue to operate its civilian flights as per ICAO-approved international routes, he confirmed.

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