Qatar Airways believes that rival European network carriers have been encouraging their US partners to complain about the Gulf carriers in the current spat over open skies.

The Doha-based airline's group chief executive Akbar Al Baker accuses Star Alliance member Lufthansa and SkyTeam's Air France-KLM of trying to impede the progress in Europe of Qatar Airways, and of Emirates and Etihad Airways, "because they cannot stand up to competition".

"American carriers are lobbied by the Lufthansa/Air France-KLM grouping, while they have anti-trust immunity over the Atlantic by which they can fix prices, detrimental to the interest of passengers," says Al Baker. "They don't want Qatar Airways and the other Gulf carriers to offer superior products at prices that are good value for money to the consumer."

He argues that there is "very clear evidence of collusion" between these European and US airlines against the Gulf carriers. "Otherwise, why should an American carrier make a representation to the European Union to block Gulf carriers?" he asks.

Al Baker dismisses rivals' complaints that the Gulf airlines are "fifth- and sixth-freedom carriers", pointing out that this is also true of European airlines and saying: "We can prove it with data."

He adds: "We are being blocked in Canada by the Star Alliance lobby on the pretext that there is no Qatar-Canada traffic, while 60-70% of the traffic Lufthansa carries from Canada is fifth and sixth freedom."

Data provided by Qatar Airways – a member of the Oneworld global alliance – compiled from IATA's PaxIS database shows that on USA-world routes in 2014, just over half of Lufthansa and Air France-KLM traffic was transferring to an international destination (see graph). The data shows that almost three million of the 5.6 million passengers Lufthansa carried to/from the USA in 2014 were transiting to an international destination, will Air France-KLM moved 3.5 million of their combined 6.6 million USA-world passengers to an international point over their gateway hubs.

PaxIS graph - Qatar

However, the data does not break out how many of these international transit passengers were connecting to another point within the European single aviation market. Also, as the data is based on returns from the IATA BSP clearing house, it only represents travel-trade bookings and therefore may exaggerate the share of connecting traffic.

The Gulf carriers all carry a larger proportion of transit passengers than the European airlines between the USA and the rest of the world, but the totals are lower as their overall volumes are smaller. PaxIS shows that Qatar Airways and Emirates carried 0.7 million and 1.7 million transit passengers, respectively, which equate to around three-quarters of their total passengers. Etihad's 0.5 million transit passengers represent about two-thirds of its total.

Al Baker is adamant that the evidence Qatar and the other Gulf carriers are providing to US government as part of the dispute makes it hard for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to prove they are suffering as a result of the Middle East operators' transatlantic services.

"With the filings that we have made to the US authorities in response to their requisitions, it is very clear that there is no harm done by Gulf carriers to any of the American carriers," he says.

"And the story about subsidies and government support is sheer nonsense," adds Al Baker. "If anybody receives government support, through legal channels, it is the American carriers through their Chapter 11 [bankruptcy protection]."

Source: Cirium Dashboard