PHOTO: New U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. (photo via Flickr/William Munoz)
Advocates of enforcing the Open Skies Agreements with the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are keeping up the pressure.
The latest? A letter-writing campaign to the Trump Administration.
U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) have written to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, urging them to “restore a level playing field for U.S. airlines and aviation workers.”
The three largest US airlines—American, Delta and United—as well as several large aviation unions have alleged that Middle East Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have accepted more than $50 billion in government subsidies.
But JetBlue, Federal Express and other commercial and cargo carriers are opponents of any renegotiation of the current Open Skies Agreements, and have lobbied to keep the system intact. Where the big three say the alleged subsidies alter the international travel marketplace and give the Gulf airlines a decided advantage, others say it creates more competition and a better pricing structure.
The saga has been playing out since January of 2015, when the Partnership for Fair & Open Skies—the lobby group for American, Delta and United—submitted a 55-page document to the Obama administration outlining the charges and asking to freeze any new routes to the US by the Gulf carriers.
Obama punted to Trump, who did hold a meeting earlier this year with airline CEOs and aviation leaders, but expressed reservations against a complete overhaul of Open Skies.
READ MORE: Open Skies Advocates Pen Letter To Pence
Here is the full text of the letter.
“Dear Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Chao:
“We write to express our concerns regarding the billions of dollars in subsidies that the Governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have given their state-owned airlines. Government subsidies give these airlines an unfair advantage over U.S. carriers, distorting the international air transport market and violating our bilateral Open Skies agreements.
“When appropriately enforced, Open Skies agreements protect and enhance fair and open competition in airline travel. They provide U.S. consumers with greater choices and access to additional international destinations and allow U.S. airlines to compete in new markets. However, the benefits of our current Open Skies agreements are being threatened by the effect that highly subsidized Gulf carriers are having on the market. Government subsidies by the Gulf States have disrupted the level playing field and harmed U.S. workers by forcing U.S. carriers to compete with foreign governments rather than foreign airlines.
“Since we first raised concerns about Gulf subsidies in 2015, the situation has only grown worse. The size of the subsidies has increased and U.S. airlines have lost routes. It is no longer possible to fly a U.S. airline to Qatar or the UAE. The overcapacity on these routes facilitated by the subsidies has made the flights commercially non-viable for unsubsidized carriers. In addition, the Gulf carriers have begun targeting routes between the United States and Europe that would not be viable without their substantial government subsidies. For example, Emirates recently launched a new nonstop route between New York City and Athens, Greece. These new transatlantic flights could put additional American jobs at risk at domestic airports and airlines.
“President Trump has repeatedly stated that strong enforcement of international agreements will be central to the Administration’s policy. We were also pleased to hear both of you stress the importance of ensuring US industries have a level playing field in global commerce at your confirmation hearings. We appreciate your commitment to enforcing trade policies that support American workers, and we urge you to take firm action to address the impact of Gulf subsidies and restore a level playing field for U.S. airlines and aviation workers.
“We look forward to working with you on this important issue. Thank you for your consideration of our views.
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Johnny Isakson
Senator Dick Durbin
Senator Jim Inhofe
Senator Tammy Baldwin
Senator Thom Tillis”