Athree-year battle started by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines against he major Gulf carriers appears to have
ended with little to show for the millions of dollars of
campaigning by the US airlines and afliated unions.
“Airlines in America fail in their campaign against
the Gulf carriers” ran the headline in the UK business
magazine The Economist. And, indeed, it’s diffcult to
view the outcome any other way.
Nevertheless, the three US majors, via their
Washington DC lobbyist Partnership for Fair &
Open Skies, attempted to put a silver lining on the
result of the Open Skies negotiations between the
US and United Arab Emirates governments that was
“A truly signifcant moment,” Delta CEO Ed
Bastian said via the Partnership’s press release. ALPA
union president Tim Canoll was more reserved. “The
UAE’s pledge as reported by the US government
would represent a promising development. However,
the UAE’s actions will serve as the true test of its
commitment to fair competition,” he said.
Attempts by the White House to play up an
achievement quickly backfred when remarks by
assistant to the President and trade council director
Peter Navarro spoke of a “routes freeze.” The
White House clarifed the next day that there was an
“understanding” that UAE airlines had “no current
plans” to add ffth freedom fights, but made no
mention of a routes freeze.
As if to underscore that the UAE Open Skies accord
remains fully intact, the UAE then issued a statement
by foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed in which he
said that discussions with the US “validate all the rights
and benefts—including ffth freedom services” of the
original air transport agreement, signed in 2002.
A similar agreement with Qatar, not changing the
Open Skies terms but with side talk of “no plans” to
add more ffth freedom fights, was sealed in January.
The real target of the campaign, however, was not so
much Qatar Airways as Dubai-based Emirates Airline,
the largest of the three Gulf carriers and the one that
began using the ffth freedom rights embedded in both
the Qatar and UAE Open Skies agreements. Emirates
began with a Milan-Malpensa, Italy-New York JFK
service, igniting concern by the US majors that this was
the beginning of wider encroachment in the lucrative
transatlantic market, and in 2017 added Athens-New
York Newark. Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi-based
Etihad Airways have so far never used their ffth
freedom rights, but US cargo carriers like FedEx, which
operates a hub in Dubai, depend on them.
However, the ffth freedom promises and, indeed,
the entire US campaign, have become almost
irrelevant in the years it has taken to try and prove
that the Gulf carriers were in breach of their countries’
Open Skies agreements because of their reliance on
heavy government subsidies (allegations the Gulf
carriers strongly deny).
For one thing, in a demonstration that there are
more creative ways to enter the transatlantic market
that do not require ffth freedom rights, Qatar Airways
now owns almost half of Air Italy, an airline it is
growing rapidly and supplying with new, long-haul
aircraft. Air Italy, whose rebranding makes it look an
During anti-Gulf carrier campaign, other competition grew.
BY KAREN WALKER