Last updated: 01:36 PM ET, Wed June 01 2016

Qatar Airways’ New Atlanta Route Re-Ignites Open Skies Debate

Airlines & Airports | Delta Air Lines | Rich Thomaselli | June 01, 2016

Qatar Airways’ New Atlanta Route Re-Ignites Open Skies Debate

Qatar Airways re-ignited the Open Skies debate today as it officially launched its new daily service between Doha and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport – home base to Delta Air Lines which, along with United and American, is looking to halt the growth of the three major Middle Eastern carriers.

The U.S. Big Three have accused Qatar, Emirates and Etihad airlines of accepting more than $42 billion in government subsidies over a 14-year period, alleging that it tilts the international marketplace.

The Gulf airlines have denied the charges.

The Obama administration was given a 55-page report last year from Delta, American and United, outlining the subsidies, but has yet to make a decision on the request to re-open Open Skies talks between the United States and the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

READ MORE: Will A New President Affect Open Skies Decision?

The Open Skies Agreements between countries allows airlines to land in any country or city without government interference, but the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies – the umbrella group representing the big three U.S. airlines – says the Gulf carriers have violated the spirit of the agreement by creating routes where there really is no market.

This morning, Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, issued a statement on behalf of the U.S. airlines.

READ MORE: Emirates Airlines Fires Back at New Open Skies Report

“With more than $17 billion in government subsidies, Qatar Airways can fly wherever it wants – even if it makes no economic sense. In the case of the new Atlanta-Doha route beginning today, Mr. Al Baker has made it clear that his decision to fly to Atlanta was retribution against Delta Air Lines,” she said. “The bottom line is that the blank government checks that Qatar and the other Gulf carriers receive are threatening the U.S. aviation industry and hundreds of thousands of American jobs.”

Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, said earlier this year he intended to “rub salt in the wounds” of Delta after the carrier pulled out of its Atlanta-Dubai service.

Last month, Qatar held a massive gala in Atlanta to introduce its new service, and rented out the venerable Fox Theatre to do so. Delta subsequently pulled its sponsorship agreement with the concert venue.

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