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The three US legacy carriers can’t let go of their feud with Qatar Airways.
On Tuesday, the CEOs of Delta, United and American Airlines took out a full-page advertisement in both The New York Times and The New York Post that urged President Donald Trump to take action on what they claim are unfair fifth freedom flights that Qatar Airways is operating through its stake in Air Italy.
“In the last few days, Qatar Airways has used its Italian proxy to launch routes to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and added flights to Miami – a further effort to undermine U.S. airlines,” the letter to Trump states. “Simply put, Qatar Airways represents a grave threat to American jobs and the health of the airline industry.”
The letter goes on to say that a “rule-abiding business” can’t compete with a “massively subsidized airline.” The implication here being that through Qatar’s minority 49% stake in Air Italy, it is subsidizing flights and unfairly competing with US airlines for flights from the US to Europe.
The three US airlines had long accused Qatar of unfairly receiving government subsidies to compete in the US market. That dispute ended after Qatar agreed to open its accounting books and agreed it wasn’t planning any routes from the US to destinations outside Qatar, which would be known as “fifth freedom” flights.
“We respectfully encourage your administration to hold Qatar accountable for violating its agreement with the United States and affirm that we will not tolerate these continued infractions,” the letter says, and is signed by Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta; Doug Parker, CEO of American; and Oscar Munoz, CEO of United.
The accusations the three US airline CEOs are levying would mean Qatar would be circumventing this agreement. But by the standard definition, Air Italy’s flights are not fifth freedom routes because Qatar only holds a minority stake in the carrier. The CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, has long denied that these flights are fifth freedom.
“This is a lie. This is a straight, white lie,” Al Baker said in response to the accusations in March. “They cannot prove that we are putting a single passenger on Air Italy out of the Qatar Airways network.”
On Tuesday, the CEOs of JetBlue, FedEx and Atlas Air all signed a letter to the Trump Administration “to reiterate our support for Open Skies” policy, arguing that Air Italy’s flights are above board.
Featured photo of Air Italy’s first 737 MAX 8 before delivery in Seattle by Alberto Riva/TPG
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