A group including several US airlines, US airports and US companies associated with tourism has urged Congress to reaffirm Open Skies agreements and reject pleas from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to take action against the major Gulf carriers over alleged subsidies.

Dallas/Fort Worth-based American, Atlanta-based Delta and Chicago-based United continue to push for the US government to address what the major US airlines allege are improper subsidies to Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and to Qatar Airways from the government of Qatar. Unsuccessful in convincing the Obama administration to take up the issue with the UAE and Qatar in a formal setting, the three major US airlines have in recent months renewed their effort, hoping to convince the Trump administration to take action.

But other US passenger airlines—including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Hawaiian Airlines—and air cargo operators—including FedEx Corp. and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings—have spoken out against the major US airlines’ campaign.

For Seattle-based Alaska, New York-based JetBlue and Hawaiian, restricting the Gulf carriers' access to the US could decrease the flow of codeshare passengers coming to the US aboard the Gulf airlines. The cargo carriers fear changes in the Open Skies agreements with the UAE and Qatar initiated by the US could lead to reciprocal alterations on the Gulf side that threaten their cargo networks in the Middle East.

Alaska, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Memphis-based FedEx and Purchase, New York-based Atlas have joined with 23 other signatories—including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Airports Council International-North America and Memphis International Airport—to express their concerns about the US major airlines’ campaign in a letter to Congress. 

“We are a diverse group of companies and organizations that benefit from an open and competitive airline system,” the group writes in the Aug. 7 letter. “Opens Skies promote competition in the airline industry, reduce costs for airline passengers, facilitate US exports, support US jobs and strengthen local economies.”

The group writes that Open Skies accords “create open markets for airline services and eliminate government interference in commercial decisions about the routes, frequency, pricing, and capacity of airline service, both for passenger and cargo carriers,” adding that the agreements “open markets and save customers $4 billion on international travel every year. They enable cargo carriers to create global route networks, helping US companies export millions of tons of cargo to customers across the world. They facilitate international tourism to the United States, which brings nearly $250 billion of spending into our local economies and small businesses. All in all, Open Skies agreements support more than 15 million US tourism and hospitality jobs.”

The group argues that the push by American, Delta and United aims to “restrict access to the US market for two Open Skies partners, in breach of our obligations.”

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition that includes American, Delta, United and a number of airline labor unions, responded: “It’s pretty sad that some people are willing to risk the economic well-being of the American aviation industry and the 1.2 million jobs it supports just to defend the Gulf carriers’ ability to keep on taking billions of dollars in foreign government subsidies. The truth is that Open Skies agreements already provide a way to deal with rule-breakers, and anything else is just an attempt to delay and derail American jobs.”

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com