UAE economy minister says provide proof

The economy minister for the United Arab Emirates’ fired back at the three U.S. legacy airlines, Delta, United and American, which have accused the Gulf carriers of benefiting from government subsidies. The three have accused Etihad, Emirates and Qatar airlines of having an unfair advantage by receiving $40 billion in government subsidies from their home countries of the UAE and Qatar since 2004.

Reuters reports that in a news conference March 9, Sultan bin Saeed al-Mansouri said “you cannot throw accusations without proof,” with German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel by his side. “The subsidy word is misused in many situations. Unless there’s proof and you put it there, you should not use the word subsidy.” He declined to say if the two men discussed the airline subsidy issue.

In February, representatives from the United States carriers cried fowl against Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, taking the issue to Washington D.C., meeting with administration officials to express their discontent. The three airlines want the U.S. government to alter the current open skies agreement with the “Big Three.”

Mansouri said that the increasingly heated exchanges between airline executives was not healthy and could affect relations between the various nations. The Persian Gulf carriers have denied receiving subsidies and have questioned the U.S. carrier’s practice of seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and receiving government help after the 9/11 attacks.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the value of the aviation industry in terms of its contribution to nations – Germany, the U.S., Europe,” Mansouri said, citing the shared benefits from aircraft purchases, travel and tourism.

German carrier Lufthansa’s former chief executive, Christoph Franz, said the state-owned status of the Gulf carriers doesn’t produce an even playing field. Yet Emirates has complained about securing landing rights at German airports, specifically Frankfurt and Munich where Lufthansa has hubs, often blaming it for denying them access. But Lufthansa is pushing back with a billion-euro investment to replace or supplement older aircraft and plans to build a new cargo center at the Frankfurt Airport to optimize logistic processes.

“Of course we have to prove it and discuss it in the existing framework and of course our colleagues and friends must have the possibility to prove the results and then discuss it,” Gabriel said.

Etihad Airways bought a 29 percent stake in Germany’s second largest airline, Air Berlin, in a strategy to expand into Europe without the need for more landing slots and to bring more traffic to Abu Dhabi.

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