Saudi Arabia and Qatar to resume direct flights from January 11

Announcements by the national airlines follow the restoration of ties between the Gulf states

A Saudi Arabian Airlines aircraft prepares to land at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, the Philippines, on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Philippine government has banned travel to Hong Kong, along with Macau and mainland China. Earlier this month, the Philippines' Labor Department announced that it would offer financial assistance and temporary housing to workers who'd gotten stranded in the capital en route to their jobs overseas. Photographer: Geric Cruz/Bloomberg

Saudi Arabian Airlines and Qatar Airways said they will resume flights to Doha and Riyadh on January 11 after the countries reopened their airspace for the first time in more than three years.

Saudia, as the airline is known, will operate flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to Doha from Monday, the airline said on its Twitter account.

Qatar Airways will resume services to Riyadh on Monday, followed by Jeddah on January 14 and Dammam on January 16, it said in a tweet. All flights to Saudi Arabia will be operated using widebody aircraft including the Boeing 777-300, Boeing 787-8 and Airbus A350.

"We also look forward to resuming a strong relationship with our trade and cargo partners in KSA, as well as the major airports in the country," the airline said.

The return of flights comes after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt agreed to fully restore ties with Doha at a GCC summit in Al Ula last week. The agreement ended a dispute that began in mid-2017 when the Arab nations accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, severing diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Doha.

"We are very pleased with the positive outcome from the GCC Summit and the decision to reopen all borders with Qatar," Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways' group chief executive, said in a tweet.

The UAE's aviation regulator said the reopening of airspace and resumption of air traffic between the UAE and Qatar will begin from January 9. UAE-based airlines have yet to announce details on Doha flights.

In 2017, when Qatar Airways was banned from flying over the four Arab countries, the airline was forced to cut routes to them and take longer, costlier flight diversions to avoid their airspace.

Qatar Airways reported its third consecutive annual loss in September, citing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the boycott of Qatar.

The state-owned airline group posted a widening net loss of 7 billion Qatari rials ($1.92bn) in the fiscal year ending on March 31, compared with a restated 4.75bn rials a year earlier.

Total group revenue and other operating income rose 6.4 per cent to 51.1bn rials as it carried more passengers.

The airline received a 7.3bn rial advance from the Qatari government in March when the group's accumulated losses exceeded 50 per cent of its share capital.

The funds were subsequently converted into new shares following approvals at a September 24 extraordinary general meeting.