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Middle East aviation outlook 2019: Saudia shifts the balance

Despite the near-mediaeval nature of aviation’s regulatory structure, it is only relatively rarely that politics intervenes to disrupt airline connections. Perhaps it is the socio-humanitarian nature of the industry’s role that often places mere political differences in the shade.

A trade war between the US and China scarcely ruffles the waters of the airline relations between the two great powers (although China has been known to use the might of its outbound tourism value occasionally to dampen traffic flows, when Korea or Japan was being castigated for one reason or another). Generally, frosty political relations tend not to overflow into air services.

Commercial roadblocks are frequently applied certainly, for example Russia’s imposition of overflight charges, or many countries’ selective use of slot shortages; yet these scarcely discriminate on political grounds.

But nowhere has politics made such inroads into efficient air service operations as in the Middle East. Israel for example has for many years been selected for traffic restrictions by many of its neighbours, and some other bilateral animosities have limited mutual services.

Just as Iran, with an educated population of 80 million and a wide diaspora, appeared set to recapture its former place in global aviation, the US withdrew from the JCPOA, confining Iran and its airlines to a minimal role. And the impact of the Saudi Arabia/UAE/Bahraini blockade of Qatar has reverberated in the air as well as on the ground.

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