Not only would the arrangement help ease pressure on Doha, which has been struggling with limited accommodation facilities for the World Cup, but could also boost Qatar’s ties with Saudi Arabia and allies following the restoration of diplomatic relations by the four Arab states with Doha.
Qatar Airways said on Thursday fellow Gulf Arab airlines would operate more than 160 daily shuttle flights to Qatar during this year’s soccer World Cup, allowing fans to fly in from nearby cities before a game and return at the end of the day.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker told a news conference that United Arab Emirates (UAE) airline flydubai, Oman Air, Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) would operate shuttle flights and that the UAE’s Etihad and Air Arabia may also join the scheme.
The shuttle flights would alleviate logistical, accommodation and policing pressure on tiny Qatar and allow neighbouring Gulf states to benefit from November’s World Cup, the first to be held in the Middle East.
Qatar hopes the tournament will attract roughly 1.2 million visitors, or almost half of the conservative country’s population.
Flydubai will operate up to 60 daily flights from Dubai, the region’s tourism hub, carrying up to 2,500 fans, Baker said, while Oman Air will run up to 48 daily flights from Muscat carrying up to 3,400 fans.
Saudia will operate up to 40 daily flights carrying up to 5,000 fans from Riyadh and Jeddah. Kuwait Airways will run up to 20 flights a day carrying up to 1,700 fans.
Games will be at eight stadiums clustered around Doha, the only major city in Qatar, which is roughly the size of Jamaica and the smallest state to have hosted soccer’s biggest event.
Shuttle flights will allow overseas ticket holders to dodge expensive and limited in Qatar by staying in other Gulf cities.
The arrangement could also boost Qatar’s ties with its neighbours following the resolution early last year of a political row that had seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt boycott Doha for over three years.
This is “a way to improve the relations with its neighbours,” said Danyel Reiche, visiting professor at Georgetown and co-author of a book on Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup.
(Reporting Andrew Mills and by Maher Chmaytelli Writing by Andrew Mills and Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)