Canada signs Qatar air deal as UAE spat simmers

Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:25pm EST
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada and Qatar have signed an air services agreement that will allow direct scheduled flights between the two countries for the first time, Canadian officials said on Monday.

The deal, which was signed on October 28, comes amid an escalating months-long dispute between Canada and Qatar's neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, over expanded aircraft landing rights.

"This agreement responds to the needs of the Canada-Qatar travel market and is a first but important step in developing Canada-Qatar air relations," John Babcock, a spokesman for Canadian Transport Minister Chuck Strahl said.

The agreement between Canada and the small Gulf state of 1.3 million people provides for up to three direct passenger flights a week as well as three direct cargo flights between the two countries, Babcock said in an emailed statement.

"We must manage a strong international demand for access to the Canadian market. The new agreement with Qatar is in the best interest of Canadians," Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman said in an email.

She said the agreement was not related to any other negotiations.

The pact comes at a time of rising tension between Canada and the UAE, whose flagship carrier Emirates has been fiercely lobbying Ottawa to allow it to expand its three-day-a-week Dubai-Toronto service. It also wants to fly to Calgary and Vancouver. Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways also wants to increase its flights.

Ottawa has so far not agreed to the requests.

The diplomatic stand-off escalated last month when the UAE ordered Canada to vacate a military base near Dubai which was used as a staging post for Canadian forces in Afghanistan.   Continued...