Following a meeting between President Donald Trump and several top airline executives to discuss the Open Skies agreements, the U.S. Travel Association reiterated its position that Middle East carrier Qatar Airways is not harming U.S. travel interests.
“We have closely scrutinized Open Skies agreements and we simply do not agree that they are doing any harm to American businesses,” U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Policy Tori Barnes said in a statement. “On the contrary, our research shows immense benefits to the U.S. economy, jobs base and exports, and considerable harm if Open Skies is tampered with.”
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The Big Three U.S.-based airlines—American, United and Delta—have long contended that the Gulf region carriers (Etihad, Emirates and Qatar) have gained an unfair advantage in international flights by being subsidized by their respective governments.
The Middle East airlines have either flat-out denied the accusation or said any funding from the governments in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been loans that need to be paid back.
To his credit, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence hosted the CEOs from both sides of the debate when he sat down with the heads of American Airlines and United Airlines, as well as Open Skies proponents JetBlue Airways, FedEx Corp, Atlas Air and—in something of a surprise—Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker.
“The president shares our concerns and instructed us to keep working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which we plan to do,” Partnership for Open & Fair Skies managing partner Scott Reed told Reuters.
American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker also released a statement after the meeting:
“Today, we met with President Trump to discuss Qatar’s continued violation of its 2018 agreement with the United States. These violations represent a serious threat to the U.S. airline industry and the more than 1.2 million American jobs it supports,” Parker said. “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.”
But the U.S. Travel Association’s Barnes said that’s simply not true.
“Apart from the Big Three, the entirety of the U.S. travel and tourism industry—including the rest of the aviation sector—strongly supports keeping Open Skies intact,” Barnes said.