Doha, Qatar, is a world center for higher education and research, a host for global trade negotiations and a venue for international sports. Oh, and there's oil there too.
Planning the Flight to Avoid Syria
Visas are required for both passengers and flight crewmembers entering Qatar and can be purchased on arrival, good for 30 days. Landing permits are also a necessity; however, sponsor letters are not. (See “City at a Glance” sidebar for other details.) Qatari ATC relies on standard ICAO procedures with QNH altimetry expressed in meters.
Getting to Qatar from the west or north has been complicated by the Syrian civil war, as it is not recommended that U.S.-registered aircraft enter (or even approach) Syrian airspace at this time. Up until the fighting began in Syria, the most common routings to the southern Persian Gulf from Europe or North America were across Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia or, alternately, Syria, Iraq and Iran. “For all intents and purposes, those routes are closed or at least aren't advised for general aviation,” an aviation manager who captains a long-range business jet told BCA. Additionally, the border between Turkey and Syria is being patrolled by Turkish military aircraft and is best avoided unless you like to see a fighter sitting off your wing with its landing gear down.
“Now you have to go west of Cyprus,” the aviation manager said, “down over Egypt onto a route south of Cairo that will take you over the Red Sea to an intersection named WEDJ; from there you go east across Saudi Arabia on Amber 145 to Bahrain and on to Doha. Unfortunately, that's 30 to 40 min. longer in each direction than going over Syria.” Before the fighting in Syria, the operator often made a tech stop at Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (LTFJ) in Istanbul. “It's on the Asian side of the Bosporus,” he explained, “easy to get in and out of, and you can do a complete turnaround there in less than an hour. From there, we'd then go over Aleppo, Syria, and Amman, Jordan, to the Persian Gulf.”
Making all this more challenging to general aviation operators heading to the Middle East is fuel price-gouging averaging $8/gal. in Greece and France. If the aircraft has sufficient range, the Istanbul tech stop remains an option, as does the island of Cyprus. Still another routing choice from North America, according to the aviation manager, is to plan for a fuel stop at Shannon, Ireland, “where you can buy fuel without paying the VAT if you're not going to another E.U. country — then south of Munich over Dubrovnik [Croatia] to Crete, then to the coast of Egypt and on. The beauty of doing that is pretty much a great circle that will get you down there in almost the same flying time [as the Syrian routing]. The downside of Shannon is weather, which often is less than perfect. Another option on that routing would be Dublin, but there you will have to pay the VAT if you buy fuel.”
Flying across central Saudi Arabia “it's a bit of a 'sandbox' [i.e., desert terrain], and the distances can be long with no radio contact with ATC,” the aviation manager said. “You will experience gaps in the radar coverage on the way down, but it's all VHF comm [i.e., no HF necessary]. Bahrain has a modern ATC system staffed with many Western controllers. They hand you off to Doha ATC, which is also extremely well run.”
The current destination airport at Doha is Bandar Raya International (OTBD), which features a single runway (16/34) that is 15,000 ft. long. It is equipped with a new full-service executive FBO operated by Rizon Jet located on the northeast corner of the field with customs on site. According to Craig Mariacci, vice president of sales at Skyplan International, a flight planning and handling service in Calgary, Alberta, OTBD is a fairly congested airport, and as a result, “they are perpetually short of space, so file early to ensure a parking spot.”
The alternative when the FBO ramp is full is for controllers to send the aircraft to a VIP parking area on the west side of the runway where passengers are unloaded and escorted to the airline terminal for customs clearance. Meanwhile, the pilots remain with the aircraft to taxi it to a remote east cargo ramp for permanent parking during the operator's stay in Doha. Getting back to the passenger terminal is a 25-min. bus ride across the airport.
“Sometimes you can fuel on arrival,” the aviation manager said, “but if it's hot, you might want to postpone that to just prior to departure so that the aircraft isn't sinking into the tarmac at near gross weight during your visit. Servicing is very efficient, but it's our policy to arrive 3 hr. before departure. On leaving, they bus you to the aircraft, then you taxi from the east cargo ramp across the runway to an assigned parking spot to fuel up and receive catering, which is brought to the aircraft.” Once planted at the FBO in a prearranged parking place, however, the aircraft will not have to be moved until departure.