Last updated: 02:15 PM ET, Fri June 12 2015

US Travel Association, Private Sector Send Letter on Open Skies

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | June 12, 2015

US Travel Association, Private Sector Send Letter on Open Skies

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As the government considers the pleas of American, Delta and United airlines to open talks with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates over the Open Skies Agreements, the U.S. Travel Association – along with other airlines and several corporations – have sent a letter to the Obama administration.

Which, of course, drew an immediate response from the Big Three-backed Partnership For Open & Fair Skies.

CEOs from Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways as well as the heads of 21 other major corporations allowed the U.S. Travel Association to send a letter on their behalf to Secretaries John Kerry, Penny Pritzker and Anthony Foxx, saying that changes to Open Skies would gravely harm airline competition, travelers and the overall U.S. economy, as well as imperil other Open Skies treaties and U.S. international agreements in general.

"I wake up every morning alarmed and sad that the Big Three have staked out this position on Open Skies," U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. "Even if I tried hard I couldn't think of a policy change that would be as utterly terrible for the economy, jobs and consumers. We'd rather be working with airlines to enhance the flying experience for travelers and get more people booking trips, but instead we have to spend time and energy opposing them on this self-interested maneuver that just makes no sense at all.”

American, Delta and United say Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines have received $42 billion in subsidies over a 10-year span from their respective governments, which the U.S carriers say creates an imbalance in the marketplace.

Within hours of the release of the U.S. Travel Association letter,  Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, issued the following statement in response: “We agree with the U.S. Travel Association that Open Skies agreements have benefited the United States and we stand behind these valuable policies. But when other countries aren’t abiding by their end of the deal, the U.S. needs to stand up for its aviation industry and enforce the rules.

"In this case, Open Skies is clear – subsidies are a violation of the policy. The more than $42 billion in subsidies and unfair benefits provided by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates have been well documented, as has the fact that these airlines have created no new demand among passengers.

“U.S. Travel blatantly ignores the Gulf carriers’ unfair tactics that simply shifts passengers away from U.S. airlines thanks to their government subsidies. Unfortunately, it's not surprising that U.S. Travel is rushing to defend the state-owned Gulf carriers since the U.S. hotel industry relies on Gulf state money for future growth and expansion in the Middle East. But that’s no excuse for distorting our position. Let’s set the record straight: we fully support a competitive and robust airline industry on a level playing field.”

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