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IATA: Gulf arguments rumble on

The debate over the growth of and competition from Gulf carriers such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways continued during the CEO forum on the first day of IATA's annual general meeting in Singapore.

Robert Milton, chairman and chief executive of ACE Aviation, the parent company of Air Canada, kicked it off saying that the trio are "the most protected" carriers that

cannot be allowed unfettered access to markets.

"They are arguing for free access, but aren't we talking about the most protected, most government supported carriers around? There are none more state-owned than these three," he said. "Alliances like Star, SkyTeam or Oneworld could be a viable alternative to them but the industry cannot just stand back."

Joining him, Austrian Airlines' executive board member Peter Malanik said that the Gulf carriers had an unfair advantage due to government support and a close relationship with their airports and aviation authorities. He questioned if Dubai, for example, would allow a foreign airline to start up a subsidiary without disadvantages.

"We don't have an issue with competition, but not competition that comes with a totally different set of rules," he added.

Emirates president Tim Clark though responded by saying Dubai was an open economy. His carrier, he said, was open about its books.

Accusations of government aid are like a "cracked record", he said. "Show me evidence of a non level playing field," he challenged.

Following him, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the arguments against Gulf carriers made little sense in an "age of globalisation and free trade". Low labour costs advantages are a misnomer, he added, pointing out that Qatar's pilots

were earning as much, if not more, than their European or US counterparts.

"We are an efficient airline, run in a proper way with high utilisation,"

he added, before training his guns on Malanik and saying: "If they allow us to establish to a subsidiary in Vienna, they can set up a subsidiary in Doha. We are happy provided there is reciprocity."

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