U.S. Government Violates Law by Awarding Emirates a Contract for Taxpayer Funded Air Travel

Delta Air Lines sends letter urging the government to reconsider decision

Washington, D.C. (August 31, 2016) – The General Services Administration (GSA) has awarded a contract for official government travel to Emirates, the state-owned carrier of the United Arab Emirates, in violation of the Fly America Act. All U.S. government officials traveling between New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and Milan, Italy will now be required to fly on Emirates, which applied for the contract through a codeshare partnership with JetBlue.

This is the second time in less than a year that the GSA has granted a Fly America route to Emirates, following a similar decision in December for flights between Washington, D.C. and Dubai. Prior to these decisions, American Airlines held the contract for the New York-Milan route and United Airlines provided the Washington Dulles-Dubai service. Citing the massive Gulf carrier subsidies and the GSA’s decision in December, United Airlines discontinued its route between Washington Dulles and Dubai, leaving U.S. government employees as well as military and intelligence officials reliant on Emirates.

“It is absurd that while the U.S. government is actively making the case against the subsidization of the Gulf carriers to the U.A.E. and Qatar, the GSA is simultaneously giving Emirates a competitive edge over the U.S. carriers and their hundreds of thousands of American workers for the second time in less than a year,” said Jill Zuckman, Chief Spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies. “This decision blatantly violates Congress’ intent under the Fly America Act. We urge the Obama Administration to scrap this decision and stop undercutting U.S. airlines and American workers.”

Congress passed the Fly America Act to ensure all air travel funded by the U.S. government and American taxpayers would take place on U.S. air carriers and flights operated by American workers. While the award was provided through a partnership with JetBlue, in reality JetBlue is not capable of operating this long-haul route and will rely entirely on Emirates to provide the service.

In response, Delta Air Lines sent a letter voicing concern about the U.S. government’s decision and is asking it to reconsider. Peter Carter, Delta Air Lines’ chief legal officer, wrote, “Emirates is not just a foreign air carrier, it is a state-owned Gulf carrier that exploits an improper advantage over U.S. flag carriers by receiving massive subsidies from its home government…This appears to be a glaring contravention of the Fly America Act’s vision of ‘help[ing to] improve the economic and competitive position of U.S.-flag carriers.’”

Emirates and the other Gulf state-owned carriers – Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways – have received more than $50 billion in subsidies and other unfair benefits from their government sponsors, which is at odds with U.S policy and violates Open Skies agreements. In July, the U.S. Department of State took an important step to address the subsidies by initiating a series of meetings with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar to discuss U.S. concerns.