Emirates Airline president Sir Tim Clark believes Delta Air Lines chief executive Richard Anderson overstepped the mark when he linked the 9/11 terrorist attacks with the Gulf carriers, as the row over subsidies and open skies escalates.

However, Clark is reluctant to comment on the statement by the US majors that they have "irrefutable evidence" that Gulf carriers benefit from multibillion-dollar subsidies until he has been shown the content of their dossier.

The latest round in the subsidies row was sparked by a controversial interview Anderson gave to CNN business anchor Richard Quest on 16 February. Anderson made a remark that has surprised many industry observers when he rebuffed the point that US airlines had benefited from huge government subsidies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by citing "the great irony" that the terrorists originated from the same region as the Gulf carriers.

Clark appeared on the Quest Means Business show on 18 February to discuss Anderson's accusations and comments. He said he was not angered by Anderson's comments regarding the terrorists, but added: "I'm a little bit concerned that Mr Anderson crossed the line in some of the statements he made with regard to what went on with 9/11 and I know that this has caused great offence in this part of the world, and I'm sure will be dealt with at the government/state level."

He also questioned whether Anderson had thought about the consequences of his comments for his airline's fellow alliance members, saying: "I wonder if Mr Anderson considered the feelings of his SkyTeam partner Saudia when he made these allegations or these carefully crafted words."

Anderson claimed in his interview that Delta and its US major allies American Airlines and United Airlines had compiled a dossier of "documented evidence that cannot be refuted" regarding some $40 billion of subsidies he says Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways have received.

Clark declined to comment specifically on the accusation, saying: "We have not had the benefit or the courtesy of being supplied with this report.

"I cannot comment on anything that we haven't seen. I cannot comment on statements about $40-50 billion or whatever, because we are yet to see the content of the report. And until we get that I think it is a little bit unreasonable for us to be forced into a situation where we have to report on something we have no knowledge of."

However, Clark is resolute in his view that Emirates has not benefited from any financial support and its only crime is to have a superior network strategy and product to its legacy rivals.

"I believe our position is utterly defensible and will be," he says. "We will demonstrate by offering quality products into the USA we will continue to draw business to points that the US carriers don't serve, have never served and probably will never serve."

Source: Cirium Dashboard