The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council consented on July 13 to Qatar's request to establish its own Flight Information Region (FIR) and Search and Rescue Region (SRR), and thus end the long-standing delegation of airspace management to Bahrain.

"The proposal represents one of the sovereign rights of the State of Qatar and demonstrates the huge investments Qatar has made to develop its air navigation system for the benefit of the region as a whole, by providing safe, efficient, and seamless air navigation services," Minister of Transport and Communications Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti said.

The agreement in principle does not immediately herald any changes in the organisation of the airspace as the two countries, together with their neighbours and ICAO, must now work out the technical details of the change. The exact delimitation of the future Doha FIR has yet to be determined.

Qatar never had full control over its airspace, having delegated the provision of all air navigation services to Bahrain immediately after both countries gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. The agreement was primarily driven by the existing colonial infrastructure, including military airports with radars located in Bahrain. While international law by default grants sovereignty over airspace, in the form of a nation's right to establish and manage its own FIR and SRR, extending over the land and territorial waters of all countries, governments also have the right under the 1944 Chicago Convention to delegate these tasks to another state.

As a result of this delegation and the architecture of the regional FIRs inherited from the British military system, Bahrain's airspace currently extends along the coast of Saudi Arabia from Kuwait in the north to the United Arab Emirates in the south. Although the country is the smallest of all Gulf states, it effectively controls most of the crucial north-south airways over the Gulf. Bahraini airspace also fully separates Saudi Arabian airspace from that of Iran.

Qatar has been trying to establish its own FIR since 2018, in the wake of the blockade of the country by all of its Arab neighbours. Bahrain allowed Qatari aircraft to depart from and land at Doha Hamad Int'l - formally located within Bahraini airspace under the 1971 delegation agreement - but prevented them from using any other routes in its FIR. The blockade was lifted in early 2021 amidst a general détente in the region, with Qatar Airways resuming full operations through Bahraini airspace. After the ICAO Council decision, Qatar acknowledged that Bahrain had provided "safe and efficient air navigation services" over the decades-long period of delegation.