Emirates weighs into AEA spat by querying lobby legitimacy

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Emirates has joined Qatar Airways' salvo against the Association of European Airlines, questioning whether carriers trying to contain the Gulf operators' expansion are engaging in sham lobbying.

Qatar Airways' chief yesterday attacked the AEA, whose head last month cited the growth of the Gulf carriers while calling for ICAO to help create a level competitive arena.

Emirates claims that a "troubling trend is emerging" within a continuing campaign by powerful airlines to limit Gulf carrier growth and queries, in a new policy document, whether legitimate lobbying is crossing a boundary into "co-ordinated activity" deliberately aimed at harming competitors.

It specifically refers to public briefings following AEA meetings, adding: "If this is publicly available information, we can only imagine what is occurring behind closed government doors when the collaborators press their agenda on regulators."

Emirates refers to the US Noerr-Pennington doctrines, under which private companies cannot be held liable for trying to influence legislation which might result in anti-competitive effects.

It queries whether such doctrines have a European Union equivalent, and asks: "When will European Union competition officials take action to investigate sham lobbying which is not protected against, as it is in the USA?"

AEA secretary general Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus said in January that the three major Gulf carriers' huge commitment to fleet expansion made him "uneasy".

"In a market of double-digit growth, airlines that have long-haul aircraft fleets which dwarf those of their international competitors are being driven by a policy which is not compatible with that of the USA and Europe [and other countries]," he added.

But Emirates, whose expansion has antagonised carriers in North America as well as Europe, insists that there is no threat to Europe as a hub.

"Any thinking person in aviation knows Europe is not going to lose its place as a major global aviation hub," it states, because European operators are consolidating into large carrier groups and the continent's origin and destination traffic is a "colossal baseline and will always be so".