American Airlines has spoken out against Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico’s opposition to a US Department of Transportation (DOT) ruling that would force the two carriers to unwind their seven-year collaboration.

Fort Worth-based American told the DOT in a 23 February filing that the US government is within its rights to withdraw antitrust immunity covering the Delta-Aeromexico partnership due to the Mexican government’s violation of the Open Skies treaty between the countries.

Mexico has in recent months reduced capacity at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International airport, the capital city’s busiest, in favour of the new but more-distant Felipe Angeles International airport. Cargo traffic has also been banished to Felipe Angeles. The shift has angered airlines and international airline lobby groups like IATA. 

The US government maintains that the moves violate the US-Mexico Open Skies agreement. On those grounds, the DOT decided on 26 January not to renew the deal’s antitrust immunity, and required that the carriers end their partnership by 26 October. 

That “effectively means that there has not been a functioning Open Skies agreement between the United States and Mexico, and therefore the department’s main prerequisite for a grant of [antitrust immunity] is absent”, American writes.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Los Angeles airport

Source: Shutterstock

American Airlines supports the US government’s decision to force Delta and Aeromexico to unwind their commercial agreement

“Open Skies agreements have always been a regulatory prerequisite for [antitrust immunity], and the department has routinely refused [immunity] where an Open Skies agreement is absent,” American writes. “The [order] stays true to the department’s longstanding policy on Open Skies. This policy has facilitated significant cooperation between international carriers that has greatly expanded travel, benefiting consumers.”

“A departure from this rule would undermine decades of the department’s efforts to encourage foreign governments to uphold transparency and free and fair competition in the public interest,” American adds.

Atlanta-based Delta and Aeromexico blasted the DOT in a 105-page filing released on 23 February, outlining alleged negative effects a dissolution of their joint commercial agreement would have. They call the US government’s decision to terminate their cross-border business venture “arbitrary, misdirected, discriminatory and ineffectual”, adding that the decision is “ill-conceived and deficient” and describing the DOT’s process as “rash, counter-productive, discriminatory and unprecedented”.

The 26 January decision struck a blow against the carriers, which have successively built out their partnership since the US government last September lifted Mexico’s safety status back up to Category 1, the highest level, after it had been relegated to Category 2 for more than two years.

On 9 February, Delta had asked the DOT to reconsider and suspend its January ruling, and instead pursue diplomatic steps to address the air-transport treaty dispute. Those steps should include the DOT working directly with the government Mexico, under arbitration if necessary, as laid out in the US-Mexico air transport treaty itself, Delta said.

“An intergovernmental dispute between the United States and Mexico, over which the [airlines] have no control, provides no rational basis for causing substantial harm to a US carrier,” Delta said in its 9 February filing.

Ultra low-cost carriers Allegiant Air and VivaAerobus similarly last week asked the DOT to recommence a review of their proposed joint venture, which has been on ice since July 2023.