PHOTO: An Emirates Airlines A380 at Chicago O’Hare. (Courtesy Theresa Norton)
For more than two years now, the big three U.S.-based airlines have accused their three chief rivals from the Middle East of being subsidized by their respective governments, running afoul of Open Skies Agreements and tilting the international travel marketplace.
Finally, the chief executive officers of American, Delta and United airlines will get the chance to plead their case directly to the man himself.
The CEOs will visit The White House on Thursday and meet with President Trump face-to-face to discuss what they believe is an unfair trade agreement in which Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines are cheating the system by accepting more than $50 billion in government subsidies over the last 13 years.
The Gulf carriers have denied the charges, saying any government financial support has come in the form of loans that must be paid back.
The Open Skies Agreement between the United States and 120 countries basically allows for airlines to travel freely back and forth between any destination without government interference. American carriers presented a 55-page document to the Obama administration in January of 2015, outlining their charges against Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.
They were frustrated over a lack of movement on re-opening discussions regarding Open Skies, but their impatience might turn out to be a piece of good fortune. In Trump, they have a president who has spoken repeatedly of unbalanced trade agreements and keeping American jobs a priority.
READ MORE: Qatar Re-Ignites Open Skies Debate
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, the CEOs of American, Delta and United sent a letter to new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson again stating their case.
"The subsidies allow the Gulf carriers to operate without concern for turning a profit, unlike U.S. airlines, and therefore focus entirely on stripping market share and driving out competition,” the CEOs wrote. “The subsidy-enabled capacity dumping by the Gulf carriers has nearly eliminated U.S. carrier service to the Middle East and India. If left unchecked we will continue to see the Gulf carriers expand in the U.S. market, causing further harm to hard-working Americans. In fact, for every long-haul route lost or foregone as a result of subsidized Gulf carrier competition, more than 1,500 American jobs are lost.”
The three Gulf carriers currently have a combined 29 routes to the U.S. from the Middle East, growing at a rapid rate and angering their American counterparts with their sometimes brazen choices. Last year, Qatar Airways instituted a route between Atlanta—Delta’s main hub—and Doha. Last month, Emirates announced service between Newark and Athens with continuing service to Dubai.
As CNNMoney noted, however, don’t expect Trump to rubber-stamp a ruling in favor of the American carriers. The Gulf airlines have billions of dollars of airplanes on order with a distinctly American company, Boeing, and at least one CEO—Qatar Airways’ Akbar Al Baker—is friends with the President.