The Airline With a ‘Stunning Lack of Respect for Donald Trump’ Is Expanding in the US

Dec 18, 2018

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Air Italy will launch a new route between Milan and Chicago on May 14, 2019, the airline announced Tuesday.

The airline currently serves New York and Miami from its hub in Milan, and recently announced new routes to Los Angeles and San Francisco coming in April, as well as Toronto in May.

The new Chicago flight, like Air Italy’s growing US route network in general, is the latest kindling to feed a simmering feud between US airlines and Gulf carrier Qatar Airways. The dispute began in 2015, involving the Big 3 US carriers — Delta, United and American on the US side — and Emirates, Etihad and Qatar on the Gulf side. The US airlines complained that the foreign carriers receive government subsidies that gave them an unfair advantage to compete in the US market. (The Gulf carriers have long denied these allegations.)

After years of dispute, Qatar reached an agreement with US President Donald Trump’s administration this past January. The Doha-based airline said it would open its accounting books and told the Trump administration it would not operate any flights from the US to locations outside Qatar, a type of route dubbed a “fifth freedom” flight. (Emirates and Etihad followed suit in May of this year).

Now, because Qatar Airways owns 49% of Air Italy, and is in turn owned by the Qatari government, the US carriers are accusing Qatar of breaking the deal with the Trump administration by expanding Air Italy’s destinations in the US. A coalition representing Delta, United and American Airlines in the dispute called Air Italy’s new US routes a “stunning lack of respect for President Trump” by Qatar.

“Once again, Qatar is using Air Italy as a Trojan horse built from subsidized cash to avoid its commitments to the Trump administration and launch new fifth freedom routes,” said Scott Reed, campaign manager for the coalition, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, in a statement on Tuesday. “As we said earlier this month, faced with clear evidence that Qatar will not play fair or abide by its commitments, we expect the Trump administration will stand up for American workers in response to these violations.”

Air Italy denies that Qatar is pulling the strings, as it only holds a minority stake in the carrier. “They do not dictate what we do and where we go. They do not manage us,” Air Italy COO Rossen Dimitrov said, adding that he would like to work out a codeshare agreement with US airlines, which would benefit both nations “rather than spending time and money fighting each other.”

(Air Italy does not operate any fifth freedom routes to the US, nor does Qatar.)

The Trump administration has not yet indicated if it will take action on the matter.

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