Last week, six Democratic and Republican members of Congress from Colorado wrote Trump administration officials urging the U.S. to stop to violations of two Open Skies aviation agreements by the three fast-growing Gulf airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways. With these voices, a total of 300 U.S. Representatives and Senators from both parties have now called for action on this major trade issue. This huge level of support across a wide political spectrum (Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Al Franken are both on board) is welcome but to me not surprising, because the issue is so clear: the massive subsidies granted to these three state-owned carriers not only break the law, but, as the Colorado delegation wrote, jeopardize “thousands of middle-class jobs and the long-term interests of American aviation.” It doesn’t get any plainer than that.
The Colorado letter is just the most recent example of the growing momentum for action.
The law and the facts are on the side of the U.S. airlines and the more than one million workers who support the U.S. aviation industry. Under the Open Skies agreements that the U.S. has signed with more than 120 foreign governments, overseas carriers get unlimited and unrestricted access to the U.S. market, the largest in the world, but these pacts are very clear: to access this huge market opportunity, foreign airlines cannot be subsidized. Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar deny the subsidies, but the U.S. network carriers have proven more than $50 billion in subsidies and other unfair benefits since 2004. The facts are equally unambiguous; American, Delta, and United have also proven that:
- In just over two years, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways have increased capacity to the U.S. by more than 50 percent – far faster than the global rate of demand for air travel.
- The Gulf carriers operate flights to and from the U.S. that clearly lose lots of money. But that doesn’t matter to these airlines and the ruling families that own them, because unlike U.S. airlines owned by investors, profit is unimportant.
- The Gulf trio do not stimulate the market, as they claim, but their growth has instead diverted traffic from U.S. carriers and their European partners.
- Each long-distance U.S. airline flight foregone or lost to unfair Gulf competitors results in an estimated loss of 1,500 American jobs.
- Because airline networks are interconnected, when U.S. airlines end intercontinental flights, the domestic flights that “feed” them connecting passengers become less viable (that’s one of the reasons the issue resonates so strongly with members of Congress from states like Colorado and Utah).
Two months ago, James Burnley, who was Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan, crisply summarized what needs to be done: “It’s long past time for the U.S. government to stand up for U.S. airlines and workers and stop the subsidies . . . Enforcing our Open Skies agreements with the UAE and Qatar would establish a level playing field for all airlines to compete fairly, without reliance on massive subsidies.” 300 members of Congress clearly agree.