Last updated: 03:41 PM ET, Mon April 20 2015

Sen. Durbin Calls for Open Skies Investigation

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | April 20, 2015

Sen. Durbin Calls for Open Skies Investigation

Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) today called on the Obama administration to investigate government subsidies from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines that some say are creating an imbalance in the international marketplace.

Durbin’s request came in the form of a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The three big domestic airlines – American, Delta and United – presented a 55-page report to government officials in late January, alleging the three Gulf airlines have received $42 billion in subsidies from 2004-2014.

Emirates, Etihad and Qatar deny the claims.

The administration said last week it will review the charges, making Durbin’s request seem strangely late. Nonetheless, here is the text of the letter he sent.

Dear Secretary Foxx and Secretary Kerry:

I write to express my concern regarding recent reports that the three largest airlines of the Gulf States of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are receiving substantial government subsidies. Market distortion caused by state subsidies give these airlines an unfair advantage over U.S. carriers. As such, I urge you to carefully review this situation and consider appropriate action to uphold the legacy of our Open Skies agreements.

I commend the Obama Administration’s success in continuing the Open Skies policy of previous Administrations. Because of your efforts, the United States now has 114 Open Skies treaties and provides U.S. consumers and communities with greater choices in international air travel. While fair and open competition is the foundation of the Open Skies agreements, government subsidies by the Gulf States have disrupted the level playing field, forcing U.S. carriers to compete with foreign governments rather than foreign airlines. This distortion puts the foundation of our Open Skies agreements at risk and has the potential to render the agreements meaningless.

The ramifications of these subsidies will be particularly felt in Illinois, which is home to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. O’Hare is the second busiest airport in the nation and is the only U.S. airport supporting two competing international hub networks. United Airlines and American Airlines support roughly 25,000 jobs in the state and have invested heavily to build international route networks at O’Hare that connect mid-sized and smaller Illinois communities–including Bloomington, Champaign, Decatur, Moline, Peoria, and Springfield–to the rest of the world. Unfair competition by foreign subsidized airlines has the potential to overwhelm U.S. carriers on key international routes and cause air service cuts and job losses as U.S. carriers are forced to exit these routes. The Administration can help prevent these losses by providing rigorous oversight and consulting with Qatar and the UAE to encourage fair competition in the international aviation marketplace.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senate

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