Chief executives from several U.S. airlines including American Airlines, United and jetBlue, as well as the CEO of Persian Gulf carrier Qatar Airways met with President Trump at a meeting held in the White House yesterday. While officials from the Trump administration didn’t confirm the agenda of that meeting it’s likely the parties discussed Open Skies agreements and whether the U.S. government should be doing more to “protect” American jobs.
Doug Parker, chief executive of American Airlines said attendees discussed enforcement of aviation agreements that the State Department reached with the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates last year. “We met with President Trump to discuss Qatar’s continued violation of its 2018 agreement with the United States,” Parker said in a written statement.
“We asked President Trump personally to do everything he can to stand up for American workers and ensure that all airlines are playing by the rules… The American Airlines team appreciates the opportunity to meet with the President and look forward to working with his administration to hold Qatar accountable and protect U.S. jobs.”
Along with Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, not everyone present at yesterday’s meeting would have agreed with Parker’s assessment. The chief executives of jetBlue, FedEx and Atlas Air have long argued that the current Open Skies regulations have served the United States and that placing restrictions on the likes of Qatar Airways and Emirates would do more harm to the U.S. economy.
Baker hasn’t commented on yesterday’s meeting but this marks the second time in little over a week that the high-profile aviation executive was at the White House – earlier this month, the Qatar Airways chief executive took part in a signing ceremony for two multi-billion dollar deals with U.S. firms.
Persian Gulf airlines have long said that they have contributed billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and that the business they award to U.S. firms has secured hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
On the flip side, the Big Three U.S. airlines – American, United and Delta Air Lines – claim Middle Eastern airlines have leveraged unfair government subsidies to expand into the North American market and put U.S. airline jobs at risk. Scott Reed, a spokesperson for a group that represents the Big Three, said President Trump shared their concerns and urged them to continue working with the Department of Transport.
Despite extensive lobbying, President Trump has seemingly avoided backing one side. And while administration officials say they are sensitive to the concerns of some U.S. carriers, they have also been careful not to take any action that might jeopardise important trade deal with Persian Gulf allies.