Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Mon October 26 2015

Flight Attendants Join Open Skies Debate

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | October 26, 2015

Flight Attendants Join Open Skies Debate

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

In an op-ed piece in the influential Washington D.C. publication The Hill, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, asked the Obama administration to come to a decision regarding the Open Skies debate.

The big three U.S. airlines – American, Delta and United – have alleged the system is broken and is taking American jobs away via the actions of their Middle East counterparts. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines have accepted $42 billion in subsidies from their respective governments, the carriers allege, altering the marketplace in international travel.

Calling it “the largest trade violation in our nation’s history,” Nelson wrote that American jobs are in jeopardy from expansion by Gulf airlines.

“These Gulf carriers have expanded rapidly without creating any meaningful new demand; instead, they are flooding the U.S. with new subsidized flights in an effort to dominate global aviation,” she wrote. “Since the beginning of the year, the three Gulf carriers have announced they are expanding service to the U.S. by a whopping 25 percent. This is threatening American jobs, routes and service for travelers. Leading economists and industry experts estimate that every international roundtrip flight lost by a U.S. carrier results in the elimination of more than 800 American jobs.”

The debate has been ongoing since January, when the three major U.S. carriers presented the Obama administration with a 55-page report accusing the Gulf carriers of receiving subsidies. The airlines have been backed by an array of aviation industry unions, as well as dozens of chambers of commerce.

Nelson noted that following Emirates’ entry into four key markets, bookings on U.S. carriers dropped 10.8 percent in Boston, 7.6 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth, 21.4 percent in Seattle and 14.3 percent in Washington, D.C.

“It isn’t just the major markets that are at risk. U.S. airlines serve small and medium-sized communities that Emirates, Qatar and Etihad have not even considered flying to because the destinations aren’t as lucrative as flying to large metropolitan areas,” she wrote. “When a U.S. carrier is forced to cut an international route because they can no longer compete, service to smaller communities is at risk. And if you ask an airport director or a mayor, you’ll hear just how critical this infrastructure is to local economies – from encouraging businesses to locate to the jobs that are supported by the aviation industry. Even the loss of one route would have an impact.”

The Gulf airlines, separately, have denied the charges and said the subsidies are actually government loans that must be paid back. The Obama administration has said it would consider opening consultation on the Open Skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, but has yet to make a decision.

The Departments of Transportation, State and Commerce have closed the docket on public comment on the issue.

“On behalf of tens of thousands of airline employees working in and serving our communities, we ask that the Obama administration act swiftly on behalf of American workers in this trade dispute and ensure all airlines are competing on a level playing field,” Nelson wrote. “We welcome competition, and the frontline workers at U.S. airlines have proven time and time again that we can compete with the best international carriers. But our airlines should be competing with other airlines, not the treasuries of wealthy nations. Good American jobs depend on action by the administration.”

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