I’ve written extensively about the dispute that the Big Three airlines in the United States have with their Persian Gulf rivals. American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines have been very vocal in their opposition to Emirates and Etihad Airways and in particular Qatar Airways, which is getting the brunt of recent lobbying activity.
The Big Three have funnelled money into a Washington-based lobbying body called the Partnership for Fair and Open Skies which is trying to win both public and political support for their campaign. They want lawmakers to take unspecified action to enforce “Open Skies” rules that they claim the Middle East airlines are exploiting.
Essentially, it boils down to an accusation that the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have received billions of dollars in subsidies from their oil-rich government owners. That, they claim, gives them an unfair advantage and puts American jobs at risk because U.S. airlines simply can’t compete.
The background goes a little like this:
- In 2015, the Partnership for Fair and Open Skies said it had unearthed evidence that the Persian Gulf airlines had received $42 billion in subsidies.
- They commissioned studies which apparently found that the Gulf carriers weren’t stimulating new travel demand but were simply cutting into the market previously served by U.S. airlines
- In 2016, Delta pulled the plug on its Atlanta-Dubai route because the market was “distorted by government subsidization of state-owned airlines.”
- Over the years, the lobbyists have won support from a number of lawmakers but no real action was ever taken against the Gulf carriers.
- When President Trump was elected in 2016, the U.S. airlines hoped his ‘America First’ agenda would benefit them.
And then everything went a little quiet – the accusations and studies and reports kept on coming but it didn’t have much of an effect. That was, until last June when the U.S. and Qatar reached an agreement – it was hardly what the U.S. airlines had been hoping for but they seized on the agreement as a way of claiming victory and moving on.
As we know, the peace didn’t last long – the Big Three carriers were incensed by Air Italy, which is 49% owned by Qatar Airways, making a push for U.S. expansion. They see Air Italy as a proxy for Qatar Airways despite reassurances from both Air Italy’s parent company and Qatar Airways.
So with the dispute well and truly resurfaced, the Partnership for Fair and Open Skies has kickstarted its lobbying campaign. This time, it looks like they are planning on flattering President Trump in an attempt to woo him to take action. A new 30-second ad spot see’s the lobby group thanking Trump for the action he has already taken and tells him that America’s workers are relying on him to enforce Open Skies rules.
“There are more than 1.2 million American workers who are counting on President Trump to enforce our country’s Open Skies agreement with Qatar. Failure to do so could lead to massive job losses and irreparable harm to the U.S. airline industry,” claims Scott Reed, managing partner of the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.
The ad will be played until May 15, although it’s only being shown in Washington D.C. (Surprising they didn’t also pay for the ad to be played Palm Beach, home of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort).
Of course, there are plenty of world leaders who have also tried flattery to get President Trump onside – the results have been patchy at best. That being said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signalled that he is sympathetic to the arguments put forward by the U.S. airlines.