by Matt Alderton | March 20, 2015
The strength of the U.S. economy depends on increased access and competition in U.S. airspace, according to the U.S. Travel Association, which came out strongly yesterday against efforts by the "Big 3" U.S. airlines -- American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines -- to restrict the U.S. activities of the "Big 3" Middle Eastern airlines: Emirates, Etihad Airlines, and Qatar Airways.

The conflict, which has been simmering since February, reached a rolling boil yesterday when U.S. Travel met with representatives from the three U.S. airlines to discuss the issue at hand. While the former argues the economic benefits of increased competition, the latter say such competition is unfair because Middle Eastern carriers receive subsidies from their sponsoring governments. Because of these subsidies, U.S. airlines want the federal government to renegotiate its "Open Skies" agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in order to limit their ability to operate flights to and within the United States.

"As the CEOs of major American companies take part in a U.S. Travel Association roundtable today, we urge them to consider the very serious economic threat that heavily subsidized competition by government-owned airlines from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates poses to the U.S.," leaders of U.S. airlines' unions said in a joint statement prior to yesterday's meeting. "Unfair competition by the Gulf carriers is jeopardizing American jobs and the U.S. economy. And it's not just airline employees who will pay the price if the unfair competition is allowed to continue: The U.S. airline industry drives more than $1.4 trillion in U.S. economic activity and more than 11 million U.S. jobs."

Airline unions claim that every roundtrip international flight that is lost to Gulf airlines results in a net loss of more than 800 U.S. jobs.

"If U.S. carriers are pushed off of international routes, they'll be forced to cut back on domestic routes to small and mid-sized communities, too, cutting off millions of businesses and leisure travelers from the networks that connect them to destinations across the world," union leaders continued. "The Gulf nations' subsidies are threatening a legacy and a service that our members are proud to provide the American public."

U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow responded with a statement of his own, firmly rejecting the unions' position:

"We are heartened and relieved to hear that airline unions share our priorities: U.S. economic growth and job creation. We wish that choice and comfort for travelers were as much a part of their equation, but alas.

"Unfortunately, having carefully scrutinized the Big Three airlines' and their unions' recent position on Open Skies, we arrive at a diametrically opposite conclusion: Contravening these open and transparent agreements that were negotiated in good faith holds dire consequences for sustaining the U.S. economic recovery and recent encouraging job growth. I say this on behalf of the industry that has restored jobs 33 percent faster than the rest of the economy since the '07-'08 downturn, and is now responsible for 10 percent of all U.S. exports -- partially thanks to Open Skies.

"We wish we did not have to stand apart from our friends in the airline industry on this or any other issue. But with their efforts to reduce competition in the aviation marketplace having become so aggressive -- and the negative impact of these policies upon consumers so abundantly clear -- we simply cannot sit idly by."

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