Qatar Airways unique position in the Persian Gulf is politically and militarily complicated. Blockaded for its policies by all of its neighbours, with the exception of permanently neutral Oman, the country has been forced into a closer dependency with Iran to access international airspace. That dependency goes far deeper because of the blockade, which has made it worse for those doing the blockading and aggravated the situation further.
The United States maintains a significant military presence in Qatar and its 5th Fleet is based at neighbouring Bahrein – one of the countries blockading Qatar.
The interpersonal relationships between Qatar’s autocratic rulers and those of the UAE, Bahrein and Saudi Arabia in the immediate vicinity, plus the Egyptians and others also preventing Qatari over-flights, have ended in insults and bad feeling. Things are not going to improve any time soon. This latest strategy move has to be seen in the light of what’s happening in the region.
The A320’s serve the airline virtually nowhere in the immediate region. They don’t have the range to get round most of the blockaded airspace and they were intended to service the immediate area.
The A320’s will be replaced with longer ranged A321’s that also carry enough passengers to make the long, thin routes more viable and get round the blockade. There are 50 A321neo and LR versions on order.
The A330’s are seen as a complication, and withdrawing them saves on maintenance as they are ageing. They will all be replaced by combination A350 and 787 orders, deleting the type entirely. It will reduce the number of aircraft types to 777, 787, A350, A321 and A380. By 2024 the first A380’s will leave service, reducing the airline to just four passenger types.
The A330’s are likely to head towards AirItaly and there’s a distinct possibility that the A320’s may also go the same direction, as AirItaly is another nervous operator of the 737Max that seems quite keen to see it out of its inventory.