Gulf diplomatic crisis: IATA opposes air travel restrictions on Qatar, but it's only concerned with bottom line

Contrary to the belief that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has some sort of executive authority over its members, this is singularly untrue. It is more of a courtesy extended to an organisation that functions as a clearing house.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Consequently, IATA’s disapproval of the ban on flying to Qatar by specific airlines as integral to the boycott by six nations is more of a request.

IATA members are not duty-bound to listen to these recommendations, and much like the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it is out of mere courtesy that the IATA director general is given a hearing. Nothing is binding. You do not even have to be a member of IATA to use some of its services: You can pay as you go.

There have been occasions where IATA has taken up causes after it was accused of being toothless — one major issue being the noise at  Heathrow Airport — it fought the good fight to have the decibel level reduced. But largely, it sticks to bringing out major reports on aviation trends and market fluctuations as well as passenger and cargo projections.

Bringing out The Global Passenger Forecast Report is one of IATA's main tasks. The report  “explains future trends in passenger numbers by means of three key demand drivers: Living standards, population and demographics, price and availability.” IATA's mission — to represent, serve and lead the industry — explains its honorary status.

IATA has been a rallying point during crises as disparate as the volcanic ash cloud over Europe, the MERS and bird flu problem, terrorism and the economic downturn. But its main attention is always on profitability and ensuring that the bottom line for the industry is robust. As an essentially trade organisation this is understandable but again, carries no fiat and the airlines being addressed do not need its permission to ground their aircraft as part of a larger picture.

IATA’s concern over the blocking of carriers is centered on the ripple effect and how this major move will impact travel around the world. The swiftness of its announcement calling on the concerned carriers to resume flying into Doha is based entirely on this aspect.

When IATA'S director general Alexandre de Juniac says, “"We are not in favour of the ban. We would like connectivity to be restored as soon as possible," what he is actually means is that this situation will hurt the bottom line. Much of the subcontinental labour force flies into Doha via UAE and moves from Doha to Riyadh and Jeddah. The absence of flights will take away many of their options.

Again, travel between the Gulf Cooperation Council is adversely affected. While one can understand that leaving out Qatar will hit business hard, it must also be appreciated that such a decision must not have been made lightly and without considering all the ramifications.

Indeed, IATA’s fear are justified. More airlines could join the boycott and there could be reciprocal reactions from airlines representing countries that might support Qatar, creating a total impasse. Especially since the bloc of nations who have taken this decision in the interest of their collective and singular security have included overflights in the ban. That means other airlines cannot use airspace over these nations to get to Doha and move on to the West.

While IATA supports airline activity and helps formulate industry policy and standards, it can be the voice of reason. However, it cannot impose a solution. What must worry it the most is that the longer this crisis continues, the more difficult it will be to resolve it.

Updated Date: Jun 06, 2017 15:13 PM

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