The big three US carriers are calling the Gulf carriers “global outliers” for the amount of state support they receive, in their push for limits on open skies with Qatar and the UAE.

“These two countries and these carriers are just global outliers,” says David Ross, a lawyer at WilmerHale and lead attorney for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines in their push. “No one else is subsidised the way they are… This combination just isn’t seen anywhere else.”

Ross’ comments are focused on the alleged more than $40 billion in state support that Qatar and the UAE have provided to Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways since 2004.

Today, the three carriers, joined by major US labour unions including the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), released a presentation of their findings and an abbreviated white paper that they presented to Obama administration officials in January.

“If left unchecked, [the Gulf carriers] could threaten the airline industry, aviation jobs and communities throughout the United States,” says Will Ris, senior vice-president of government affairs at American, at a media briefing in Washington DC. “American, Delta and United remain steadfast supporters of open skies.”

Andrea Newman, senior vice-president of government affairs at Delta, and Mark Anderson, senior vice-president of corporate and government affairs at United, seconded Ris’ comments.

The US carriers claim that state support to Emirates exceeds $6 billion, Etihad more than $17 billion and Qatar more than $17 billion. Support ranges from interest-free loans, loan guarantees, assumed fuel hedge losses and owners that control the entire local aviation sector.

Flightglobal first reported the US carriers’ push for their government to re-look open skies with the Gulf in October 2014.

The Gulf carriers have vehemently denied the claims since they were first made public at the beginning of February.

“We don't receive any subsidy,” said Qatar chief Akbar Al Baker in an interview with CNN in February. “What the government has given us is equity into an airline, which they own.”

American, Delta and United are bullish on the prospects of getting the Obama administration to address the alleged subsidies.

“We are very pleased with the reaction of government officials,” says Ris.

When asked by reporters what they would do if the administration did nothing, he adds: “We’re confident they will do something.”

The airlines are pushing for the US to begin consultations with Qatar and the UAE under the existing open-skies agreements, says Ross. Through this process the Gulf countries can defend their practices and respond to the allegations of the US carriers, he adds.

What American, Delta and United want immediately is a limit on any additional flights to the USA by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar and, they hope, the removal of fifth freedom rights that allow the Gulf carriers to serve the USA from points in Asia and Europe.

The US airlines are not concerned about any knock-on effects of their push, despite the broader ties of the Gulf to the USA. Ris says that Airbus continues to receive widebody orders from the Gulf despite similar outcries by European carriers and he has no concerns that Boeing will as well.

No airline officials commented on the geopolitical impact of their push on the relationship between the USA and both Qatar and the UAE, which are strategic allies in the fight against Islamic State.

Source: Cirium Dashboard