The debate involving the U.S. legacy carriers, American, United and Delta Air Lines v. the big three Gulf-based carriers, Etihad, Emirates and Qatar, refuses to go away. Last week, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) joined the Partnership for Fair and Open Skies, a coalition of U.S. airlines and airline industry labor unions, which has claimed that the three Gulf carriers have received substantial subsidies from their respective governments, in violation of open skies agreements.
According to the group’s website, the partnership is composed of American, United and Delta, as well as the Air Line Pilots Association International, the Allied Pilots Association, the airline division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Association of Flight Attendants, the Communication Workers of America, the Transport Workers Union, and now SWAPA. The goal of the group is to provide a “level playing field under the open skies agreement with Qatar and the UAE.”
Earlier this month, the group presented a 55-page white paper to U.S. government officials, claiming that US$42 billion in state subsidies and other unfair benefits were provided to the Gulf airlines. U.S.-based regulators are currently investigating whether the subsidies were in violation of the open skies agreements.
On April 30, 264 members of Congress signed a letter addressed to Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx stating their support for the partnership. They are asking the secretaries to meet with representatives of the Gulf carriers to “stem the tide of subsidized capacity” for the state-owned airlines, stating that it is unfair to the U.S. carriers and contrary to the open skies agreements. The letter states that for “each daily international roundtrip frequency lost/forgone by U.S. Airlines because of subsidized Gulf carrier competition results in the loss of hundreds of U.S. jobs.
Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilot’s Association said, “We applaud the strong bipartisan support from 264 members of Congress in asking the U.S. Departments of State and Transportation to open consultations with the governments of Qatar and the UAE. We hope our government will move quickly once the public comment period closes,” he said. “Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates Airline receive billions of dollars in government subsidies. These actions undermine our Open Skies policy and the principles of fair and equal competition and threaten thousands of U.S. aviation jobs. A deal is a deal. These countries agreed to Open Skies without government intervention, which is impossible to achieve when our airlines are competing against their governments.”
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