Gulf airlines have upped their attack on European countries who allegedy restrict access to their main airports to featherbed national carriers.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Arab Air Carriers Association Organisation annual meeting in Dubai, outspoken Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker accused Air France and Lufthansa of “stirring a protectionist approach” by Paris and Berlin.

“Europe is much worse than the US when it comes to protectionism,” he says. “We have plenty of evidence to prove it.”

He says an unwillingness by pilots and other employees to accept reform means these carriers are increasingly “inefficient” compared with Gulf rivals. He adds: “Their costs are skyrocketing and the unions are to be blamed.”

Al Baker says there are “no problems” with access to the UK – British Airways is a fellow member of Oneworld. “The problems are in the Netherlands, France, Germany and elsewhere,” he says.

His fellow panel-member Paul Gregorowitsch, chief executive of Oman Air and a former Air France-KLM senior executive, says the French and German flag-carriers are “making life difficult” for smaller Gulf airlines too. “We are restricted from flying to [Paris] Charles de Gaulle because they are protecting Air France,” he adds.

Emirates Airline boss Tim Clark struck a more sanguine note. “We do not want to force any country to do anything they don’t want to do,” he says. “Our job is to persuade people that we add value to the countries to which we fly. We hope that sense will prevail.”

The Dubai airline operates to 38 destinations in the European Union, says Clark. “Etihad and Qatar are growing in the region too. I defy anyone to say that any of us have done anything to damage the economies of the countries we serve.”

Last month Association of European Airlines chief executive Athar Husain Khan vented his frustration over accusations that Europe operates in a protectionist way towards local carriers. He argued that Europe encourages open competition from overseas markets and is calling for the same rules to be applied reciprocally.

"It's frustrating for me that the European airline industry is unjustifiably accused of being protectionist," he said. "Europe is the only region in the world that has liberalised its market so far." He also says Europe is more liberal in the way it applies ownership rules to local carriers, pointing to the the ability for non-EU carriers to hold up to 49% of European airlines.

Source: Cirium Dashboard