Qatar’s new Saudi airline to take off ‘in November’ despite Gulf tensions

Al Maha Airways set for launch by yearend despite row between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors

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A Qatar Airways offshoot carrier serving Saudi Arabia is set to launch in November, the kingdom’s aviation authority said, following fears that take-off could be blocked due to tensions between the two Gulf states.

State-owned Qatar Airways said in January it plans to launch a domestic airline in Saudi Arabia by the third quarter of this year. The carrier’s Al Maha Airways intends to fly between Saudi cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, competing with Saudi Arabian Airlines and National Air Services.

Some analysts said they feared the move could be blocked after Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their envoys to Qatar, amid mounting frustration at Doha’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have labeled the Islamist movement a “terrorist” organization.

But Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) this week confirmed that Al Maha Airways will start operating in November, slightly later than Qatar Airways planned. The GACA said another new carrier called Saudi Gulf Airways would also start flying in the same month.

“Al-Maha Airways and Saudi Gulf Airways will start operating in the Kingdom in November,” GACA spokesman Khaled al-Khaibari was quoted by Makkah daily as saying, the Saudi Gazette reported.

Khaibari denied reports about the withdrawal of Al Maha from the Saudi market and said the Qatari air company is currently finalizing formal procedures and necessary preparations to launch.

“The winter schedule will include flights of the two carriers,” he said.

Al Maha has bought 10 new aircraft and is planning to buy 10 more to boost its fleet, Khaibari said.

One analyst told Al Arabiya News earlier that rising tensions in the Gulf raise the threat of Qatar Airways being banned from Saudi airspace, and the Al Maha launch being blocked.

Yet others played down the possibility of moves such as a block on Al Maha.

“The Saudis would be seen to be delivering punitive action against Qatar if they stopped Al Maha Airways from operating - indeed, it was the Saudis that were soliciting international airlines and bidders to come into its domestic market in the first place,” aviation analyst Saj Ahmad of said in a note to Al Arabiya News earlier this month.

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