Why was Qatar fined $185k by DoT?
Flights in question had nothing to do with the United States
Qatar Airways flew flights between two points neither of which was in the United States. Those operations did not use US airspace. There are no allegations of US citizens being onboard. The US Department of Transportation issued an Order compelling the foreign carrier to pay $185,000 in penalties for flights in airspace which the FAA had designated as restricted based on threats from conflict in the area.
That’s an unusual extension of US jurisdiction. Why did the DoT sanction (the money for such a rich airline matters not, perhaps the embarrassment of being called out did?) a carrier of a country which is an ally?
US DoT Secretary Foxx announced a fine issued by his staff against Qatar Airways. The Consent Order recites the obligations of a foreign air carrier in its §402 permit and its approval of QR’s use of the AA code in selling seats on its flights:
As part of the terms, conditions, or limitations referenced above, the Department prohibits foreign carriers from carrying the code of a U.S. carrier over an area for which the FAA has issued a flight prohibition. This condition is incorporated into Qatar Airways’ statement of authorization in which the Department granted Qatar Airways the authority to display American Airlines’ designator code (AA) in conjunction with Qatar Airways’ foreign air transportation.
The most likely rational is that the US and the world has no “traffic cop” who watches the airlines for flying over areas of civil unrest. The only international effort to avoid repeating the horrible shooting down by Ukrainian “insurgents” of Malaysian Air 17, a civil airliner, is the ICAO Conflict Zone Information Repository. ICAO has no enforcement powers against an airline and to access this website listing risks, an airline or a member of the public must first agree to a DISCLAIMER AND EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY.
Basically, other than this action by the DoT, there is no obvious mechanism to deter a carrier from overflying an area posing risk that weapons on the ground might fire, intentionally or unintentionally, at an unarmed civil aircraft. Airlines generally fly the shortest routes between A and B so that they minimize their fuel expenses. An executive of an airline might diminish some of these threats analyzing that the conflict on the ground does not involve their flag country (although Malaysia had no contrary interests with the Ukraine combatants).
By taking this action, Secretary Foxx made it clear to all foreign carriers with DoT approval of their code share agreements with a US airline.
One might wonder how the DoT or FAA might have learned that a Qatar flight was flying over prohibited airspace. That unknown might cause a cynic, an occupational disease of DC denizens, to construct a conspiracy starting with a hypothesized competitor being the source of the QR transgression and point to these known facts:
- Some of the US carriers have complained for a year about the advantages held by the Gulf Carriers and the DoT has not granted their requests for sanctions.
- President-elect Trump has made it clear that he will be more protectionist in his policy decisions, including aviation.
- A4A’s president met with Candidate Trump and reports indicate that he mentioned the Gulf carriers. A4A has made it clear that it is clear that Global Competition is a major policy objective.
- ALPA, a supporter of the anti-Gulf Carriers’, mentioned trade issues in its letter to the President-elect.
- Some of the Washington pundits have opined that the new President might take some action.
The Consent Order was issued soon thereafter?
Whatever the explicit or implied motivation, making it clear that international conflict zones must be observed is an important message.