As Docket on Gulf Airline Subsidies Closes, Broad Majority of Voices Call on Obama Administration to Act

Breadth of support demonstrates need for consultations to address massive trade violations, protect key American industry

Washington, D.C. (August 3, 2015) – A broad majority of aviation stakeholders urged the Obama Administration to take immediate action and enforce its Open Skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar as the government docket to solicit comments closed Monday.

An initial tally of nearly 2,000 out of 3,000 comments weighed in on behalf of the U.S. aviation industry — and against harmful Gulf airline subsidies. The comments came from a diverse array of stakeholders that included pilots, flight attendants, mayors, governors, prominent aviation economists, business leaders, and members of Congress, among others. The majority urged the U.S. Departments of Transportation, State and Commerce to request consultations with the UAE and Qatar and to pursue a freeze on new routes to the United States by Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates.

“We are overwhelmed by the strong chorus of voices calling on the Obama Administration to address the more than $42 billion in unprecedented subsidies that are keeping the Gulf airlines afloat and harming American aviation jobs,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, which represents the U.S. carriers, their workers and unions. “Now that the docket is officially closed, it is time for the Administration to take immediate action and stand up for our workers being harmed by the Gulf carriers.”

“Concern is clear and mounting from Congress, the airline industry and its workers, and from the traveling and shipping public regarding the massive and sustained financial support that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar governments provide to Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways,” said Captain Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. “It is foreseeable that the harm from these market-distorting advantages will only grow and pose a greater risk to the free market and U.S. airline workers’ jobs, so the U.S. government must act now to restore fair competition.”

“The UAE and Qatar’s massive subsidies to expand their carriers have already begun to force U.S. airlines off international routes and threatens domestic service to small and mid-sized communities,” said Captain Keith Wilson, president of the Allied Pilots Association. “Tens of thousands of employees who make their livelihoods in the U.S. aviation industry are at risk of losing their jobs as the Gulf carriers continue to dump capacity without regard to market demand.”

“Without a level playing field for U.S. airlines to compete in the global market, our domestic service is in jeopardy. Hundreds of thousands of flights arrive and depart at the great hubs of the American skyways each year. If the U.S. government does nothing about the Gulf states’ Open Skies violations, service from small and mid-size airports to global gateways will be at risk,” said Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson.

“There can no longer be any doubt that the big three Gulf carriers are accepting massive subsidies from their government treasuries,” said Association of Professional Flight Attendants National President Laura Glading. “In addition to violating Open Skies policy, their actions hurt consumers and American working families. APFA looks forward to our government reviewing the docket submissions and taking decisive action.”

In recent weeks, prominent economists, industry leaders, business groups, government officials and U.S. airline employees have demanded the Obama Administration take urgent action to resolve the UAE and Qatar’s violations of Open Skies policy:

  • 21 U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx calling on them to hold the UAE and Qatar accountable for their unfair business practices, which undermine Open Skies agreements.
  • 262 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretaries urging them to request consultations with the governments of Qatar and the UAE to address the billions of dollars in unfair subsidies. Separately, 19 Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee sent Secretary Foxx a letter expressing concern about the market distortions that are caused by the unfair subsidies.
  • A report by Aaron Klein, a former deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department, draws disturbing parallels between the illegal Gulf subsidies and the demise of the U.S. domestic shipbuilding industry in 1980s and 1990s, as a result of foreign subsidies that went unanswered. Klein said the U.S. aviation industry is similarly at risk of massive job loss due to foreign subsidies if the Obama Administration fails to enforce its agreements.
  • Aviation industry expert William Swelbar released new research illustrating the harm to American communities if nothing is done by the Obama Administration to enforce existing agreements governing international routes.
  • The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), representing 1,400 mayors, passed a resolution asking the Administration to initiate talks with Qatar and the UAE before additional harm is done to U.S. cities.
  • Airline workers from across the country – including the major aviation hubs of Chicago and New York, as well as pilots and flight attendants visiting Capitol Hill – called on the U.S. government to act.
  • 30 local and regional airports sent letters to the U.S. Secretaries of Transportation, Commerce and State, as well as members of Congress, explaining the impact of inaction on airline service to small and midsize markets across the country.
  • Groups representing the economic interests of thousands of American businesses urged the U.S. government to begin consultations with Qatar and the UAE to address the subsidies that put American businesses at risk. Organizations expressing their support included the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and over seventy local Chambers of Commerce.