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.
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.