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Open skies under cloud as US vs Gulf feud comes to boil

July 25, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The simmering feud between US airlines and Gulf carriers such as Qatar Airways and Emirates is bubbling up again, with US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meeting top executives of America’s biggest airlines, who are demanding action to crack down on their Middle Eastern rivals.

The US carriers accuse the United Arab Emirates and Qatar of unfairly subsidising their government-owned airlines; whereas the Gulf states and their airlines vehemently deny any such subsidies are happening.

United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz, American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker and JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes were reported to be at the White House a few days ago. One report said Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker was there too.

Last year, Trump signed an “Open Skies” agreement with Qatar and the UAE. In return, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways agreed not to fly any direct routes between the US and Europe.

Some of the big US carriers now claim the Gulf airlines are violating that deal.

In an opinion piece, Parker, Munoz and Delta chief Ed Bastian charged Qatar with “blatantly disrespecting” the agreement.

“The country [Qatar] pledged that its airline would not launch any flights directly between the United States and Europe. It quickly shrugged off the commitment by investing in a failing regional Italian airline and rebranding it as Air Italy, which is now being used as a proxy for new subsidy-backed routes between the US and Italy,” the US airline chiefs wrote.

If Qatar and the UAE weren’t willing to uphold their side of the deal, the US should consider removing itself from the two Open Skies treaties with those countres, they added.

MEANWHILE, the US Travel Association (US Travel) is fighting to keep the skies open. US Travel executive vice president for public affairs and policy Tori Barnes issued the following statement:

“We have closely scrutinized Open Skies agreements and we simply do not agree that they are doing any harm to American businesses – on the contrary, our research shows immense benefits to the US economy, jobs base and exports, and considerable harm if Open Skies is tampered with. Apart from the Big Three, the entirety of the US travel and tourism industry – including the rest of the aviation sector – strongly supports keeping Open Skies intact.”

The “Big Three” are American, United and Delta.

Written by Peter Needham

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