Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Thu May 28 2015

Open Skies Debate Could Rage All Year

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | May 28, 2015

Open Skies Debate Could Rage All Year

Any inkling that the Obama administration could make a decision by the end of the month on whether to re-open talks with the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates regarding the Open Skies Agreements should be dismissed.

In fact, as the temperatures heat up – literally outside, and figuratively in the dispute between U.S. and Persian Gulf airlines – you might be shopping for holiday gifts before a decision is made.

“No, I would not expect any communication from the Administration any time soon,” Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition, told this morning.

Mitchell and the BTC, along with the U.S. Travel Association, have been the leaders of the proponents of the current Open Skies Agreements, which ensures free trade without government interference of commercial airlines. The opposition, however, led American, Delta and United airlines, have charged the three major Gulf carriers with receiving a combined $42 billion in government subsidies that they saw skewers the marketplace on international travel.

The U.S. Depts. of Transportation, State and Commerce have asked for public comment on the dispute.

“May was always a "soft" closing of the docket with opportunities (additional time) for stakeholders to respond to comments submitted late,” Mitchell said. “Moreover, State, Transportation and Commerce will have to jointly analyze all the comments and develop an agreement on what to do, if anything. I am thinking end of the year.”

The government agencies have said they will look into the matter at the behest of the U.S. airlines, although the Obama administration has indicated it is in favor of Open Skies.

The only statement from DOT on the matter came last month in a release when it said: “This will be noted in the docket, but we do not expect to close the joint docket in the foreseeable future. We do, however, encourage submissions as soon as practicable, in order to promote a robust dialogue amongst stakeholders and provide the U.S. government sufficient time to evaluate the information.”


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