Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAA) has become the first commercial carrier to suspend routes to Syria after it announced yesterday it had stopped flying to the country last Friday.
"Passenger traffic was very weak because of the unrest in the country," said Waleed Al Aloomi, the head of communications at the airline. "We had 10 routes, then it dropped to six, and last week we halted our operations in that country entirely."
SAA had operated flights to Damascus, the capital of Syria, from Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.
Until now, all Middle Eastern carriers insisted they would keep operating to Syria for as long as possible, following the Arab League's recent decision to apply sanctions.
As recently as December, Khaled Al Molhem, the director general of SAA, told Flight International magazine that the carrier would try to "maintain its schedule" to Syria.
Yesterday, Emirates Airline said it would continue to fly to Syrian destinations despite SAA's decision. Etihad Airways earlier said it would continue to serve Damascus while it was able, but had put the connections under review.
Last night, the International Air Transport Association, the body that represents the world's airlines, said from its Geneva headquarters that it had not yet issued any advice to its members on flights to and from Syria.
Syrian airspace was last night still open to commercial flights, but the industry is understood to be concerned about whether further sanctions might disrupt services or lead to Syrian retaliation.
One of the carriers likely to be most affected is Royal Jordanian Airlines. "We hope they don't close the airports or airspace. This would be a great concern," Hussein Dabbas, its chief executive, told the Arab Air Carriers Organisation conference in Abu Dhabi in December. The airline serves Damascus and Aleppo, but any disruption to Syrian airspace would also affect its Lebanese flights.
The budget operator Air Arabia is already on record as saying it had no intention of cutting Syrian routes until it had to. "I'm a businessman, not a politician. As long as we're legally able to fly, we will," said Adel Ali, the chief executive.