Status: Capital, largest city, financial center
Country visa requirement: Yes
Landing permit requirement: Yes
Sponsor letter required: No
Aircraft documents required: Not mandatory but recommended to carry airworthiness certificate, registration, insurance certificate with country coverage, etc. as a precaution and also in the event aircraft must redirect to an alternate airport in another country.
Any other requirements for visiting aircraft: Flight plan must be filed at least 2 hr. prior to departure from origin to ensure receipt by UAE ATC authorities.
Carbon trading requirement: No
ATC procedures: ICAO
Any unique procedures: No
Metric or feet: Feet (altimeter setting in hectopascals)
WGS 84-compliant: Yes
Local navigator required: No
Name & ICAO identifier: Bandar Raya Doha International Airport (OTBD)
Coordinates: 25° 15.7' N, 51° 33.0' E
Elevation: 35 ft.
Runways: 16/34, 15,000 ft. x 151 ft., asphalt (PCN: 060FAXT)
Noise restrictions: No
FBOs: Rizon Jet
Clear CIQ at: FBO
Parking: FBO, depending on availability (recommend filing early and working with local handlers).
Credit: Fuel cards
Lav service: Yes
Catering: Airline ()
Fees: Runway fees based on MTOW
Security: Good; guards can be arranged by airport authority.
Ground transportation: VIP cars and passenger buses
Distance and driving time to downtown: 10 min.
Remarks: Due to heavy congestion at OTBD, a second international airport has been under construction in Doha since 2009 located 5 km/3 sm east of the old field. Temporarily dubbed “New Doha International Airport” and targeted for completion in 2013, it will include two parallel runways, one of which is claimed to be the longest in the world for a civil airport (18,000 ft.), to accommodate fully loadedjumbo jets in summer desert temperatures. The airport is designed to absorb three times the amount of traffic as OTBD, or 320,000 movements and 29 million passengers per year.
BCA appreciates the assistance of Skyplan International in the preparation of this report.
Descended from a fishing village on the shore of a small peninsula jutting out of Arabia into the Persian Gulf, Doha is the capital and largest city of Qatar.
Since Qatar achieved its sovereignty in 1971, after having been a British protectorate for 55 years, it has become one of the wealthiest states in the Middle East thanks to its oil and natural gas reserves. Today, it boasts the highest per capita GDP in the world — $104,300 in 2011, as its indigenous population numbers only 300,000 citizens, bolstered by a huge expatriate workforce — fed by an economy growing at an annual rate of nearly 20%. Total GDP last year was $184 billion. Petrochemicals and liquefied natural gas are responsible for much of this largess (the country sits on 13% of the world's natural gas reserves, which, along with oil, account for 85% of Qatar's exports), which the emirate has invested in its people and infrastructure. It has thus become a magnet for business and a popular destination for business aviation operators.
Despite a coup in 1995 in which the ruling sheikh was overthrown by his son, the heredity line of the Al Thani family, which has presided over Qatar as an emirate (or absolute monarchy) since the mid-19th century, was preserved. Qatar is presently ruled by Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and in the last 30 years has developed close ties to the U.S., which bases its Central Command Forward Headquarters and Combined Air Operations Center in Doha. The country's total population (including expat employees) numbers 1.85 million people, some 60% residing in Doha.
It is believed by some scholars that the name Doha is derived from the Arabic word ad-dawha for “the big tree,” possibly a reference to a large tree, or landmark, that stood in the prehistoric fishing village that constituted the first settlement on the Qatari Peninsula. Today, the image is symbolic of a country with investments spread over many cultural, educational, industrial, financial and social interests and a government apparently dedicated to elevating the standard of living of all its citizens.
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.
Line Up and Wait
On the other hand, procedures at Doha International are straightforward, and the airport is modern and efficient. “We've never had a departure delay,” the aviation manager said. “And it has a 15,000-ft. runway!” he added, joyfully, no doubt thinking of takeoffs in fully grossed long-range business jets in 49C summer temperatures.
Mark Keiswetter, an American Hawker 900 captain for Rizon Jet who is based in Doha, reminded readers landing at OTBD or any other major airport in the region, to expect the new ICAO “line up and wait” radio phraseology when taking the runway. “If you are holding short of the runway and there is an aircraft on 2-mi. final,” he explained, “the controllers will say, 'Behind landing aircraft, line up and wait behind,' and then you are expected to repeat that back [before taxiing onto the runway and holding until the other aircraft has passed over, landed and cleared the runway].”
Qatar's booming energy economy and the rapid growth of the nation's flag carrier, Qatar Airways, have prompted the development of an entirely new airport on landfill at the edge of the Gulf only 5 km east of OTBD. Temporarily named “New Doha International Airport” and already assigned the ICAO code OTHH, it is claimed to be the first airport on the planet specifically designed to accommodate the double-decker Airbus A380 super jumbo. Construction commenced in 2009.
A feast of superlatives, New Doha features what are claimed to be the longest runways ever built at a civil airport, respectively, 16,000 and 18,000 ft. The first phase of New Doha is scheduled to open in 2013, with completion of the field two years later. It is unclear at this time whether the present airport will be retained for domestic and general aviation operations or closed. At full capacity, OTHH is expected to handle three times the traffic of OTBD, or 320,000 movements and 29 million passengers annually. “Some of these airports out here [in the Middle East] are so large you may have to plan 'taxi fuel,'” Keiswetter observed.
Qatar — the preferred pronunciation of which is “KatTAR,” not “Kotter” — is probably the most liberal country in the Middle East in terms of education. The government and Qatar Foundation have invested billions of dollars in developing indigenous schools and a university and have solicited literally dozens of schools, colleges and major universities from all over the world to establish extension campuses, most of which are ensconced in a district of Doha named Education City. This environment has spawned significant research facilities covering a multitude of disciplines.
Remember Where You Are
The country is also highly cosmopolitan, due to the fact that two-thirds of its population consists of expatriates from other countries. Alcohol is not forbidden, and business aviation operators will not be required to lock up liquor on their airplanes or fear cabin inspections. Women are not required to be completely covered, and a head scarf tastefully worn is sufficient to meet local religious customs. However, this is still a Muslim country, and public drunkenness or inappropriate behavior will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, including ejection from the country at best and several years in prison at worst. And if you value your freedom, don't even think about bringing recreational drugs into the country.
Doha is a welcoming city with lots of culture. “It has good hotels and food, and alcoholic beverages are available,” the aviation manager said. “Women are covered but not to the extent you would see in Saudi Arabia. We often go to the old town market to eat in outdoor restaurants. And the country is generally favorable to the U.S.” BCA