Qatari fighter jets came within just 200 metres of a UAE-registered aircraft, a UAE civil aviation authority official said on Tuesday, in a dangerous escalation of the harassment of the UAE.
He said the international community has been called on to stop Qatari interference with UAE civilian aircraft.
Two Qatari air force fighters forced a UAE-registered civilian aircraft flying over international waters to elevate from 32,000 to 35,000 feet on Monday to avoid a collision, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi.
The Qatari fighter jets were recorded within 214 vertical metres of the aircraft and with less than 1,000 horizontal metres between them.
“It puts international civil aviation traffic at risk,” said Ismaeil Al Blooshi, the assistant director generation of the authority’s aviation safety affairs sector. “We are now working with our allies to ensure that these foundational international agreements are upheld and we call on the international community to support this effort.”
The Airbus 320 was flying on the UL768 route to Europe and was within the Bahraini flight information range. The jets were not communicating with the Bahrain air traffic controller, said Mr Al Blooshi.
The jets approached the Airbus from the north and circled behind it, approaching from below. The distance between the two aircrafts dropped from 14,000 feet to 1,000 feet in less than three minutes, said Mr Al Blooshi.
The incident took place at 3.33pm local time on Monday, 18 nautical miles (33km) from the Qatari coast. According to United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea, every state has the right to territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles from its coast. This extends to airspace.
Also on Monday, a UAE-registered helicopter was approached by Qatari aircraft. This incident happened at a lower altitude and further details will be obtained from Bahraini officials at a later time, said a GCAA official.
The authority has already filed a formal complaint to to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regarding the Qatari interception of two civilian Emirati aircraft on January 15.
“This has to stop,” said Mr Al Blooshi. “This is the fourth UAE civilian aircraft where a similar event has happened and what we’ve seen is that every time the envelop is pushed more. The risk to the passengers is pushed higher every time.”
The authority declined to comment on the owner of the airliner or the number of passengers. The Bahrain state news agency reported on Monday that the plane’s tail number matched that of an aircraft flown by the Fujairah ruling family.
“These manoeuvres should not come near civil aircraft," said Mr Al Blooshi.
"There is a code that fighters, state and military aircraft are required to follow when it comes to civilian aircraft, and it’s based on the principals of due regard to the safety of the operation of the aircraft. What we want to see is an immediate cease of acts that endanger or compromise the safety of civilians.”
“It is not just UAE aircrafts that use this airway, it’s an international airway used by air traffic from around the world.”
Qatari fighter jets have approached UAE military aircraft on three separate occasions in recent months.
A Qatari jet neared a UAE F-16 on December 27 last year, according to Brig Gen Helal Al Qubaisi of the Armed Forces. He reported that this was followed by two other incidents involving a UAE Twin Otter aircraft and a C-130 cargo plane, on January 3 and January 12.
The UAE has filed a complaint to the UN Security Council president and the UN General Assembly president.
Qatar has said that the recent allegations were made to cover up UAE military aircraft violations of its airspace on December 21 and January 3, the Associated Press reported. Qatar submitted a complaint with the UN about the alleged December 21 violation. Its ministry spokesperson said Qatar planned legal action against the UAE.
The UAE has denied these allegations.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting extremism and interference in the internal affairs of other states.