New Airline Coalition Opposes Big Three, Supports Open Skies

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In the ongoing debate over the United States' "Open Skies" agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, four U.S. carriers have defied the "Big Three" U.S. airlines -- United, Delta, and American -- by siding with their Middle Eastern competitors, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and Emirates.

The carriers -- cargo airlines FedEx and Atlas Air Worldwide, along with passenger airlines JetBlue Airways and Hawaiian Airlines - announced yesterday that they have formed a new group called the U.S. Airlines for Open Skies Coalition.

"The Big Three do not speak for all, or even most, U.S. airlines," said Hawaiian Airlines CEO and President Mark Dunkerley. "Our coalition believes that the United States should honor its Open Skies commitments, which opens markets for U.S. carriers, promotes competition on international and domestic routes, and facilitates U.S. exports."

Added JetBlue President and CEO Robin Hayes, "Global competition is a fact of life. Open Skies has opened the door to tremendous new opportunities for U.S. airlines including JetBlue -- competition that benefits consumers and the economy -- and we must oppose calls to roll back that progress and risk reverting to the old days of heavy government regulation of our industry."

In place for over two decades, Open Skies agreements were designed to facilitate increased competition, lower fares, and more flights in the international air travel marketplace. For the better part of this year, however, the Big Three have been calling on Congress to reevaluate and revise the country's agreements with the aforementioned Persian Gulf nations, claiming that those countries give their airlines government subsidies that put U.S. airlines at a competitive disadvantage.

"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," Capt. Keith Wilson, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said yesterday in a statement issued by the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition consisting of the Big Three and their supporters. "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."

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which has been collecting feedback on the issue this summer, ceased accepting comments on Monday. Both the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies and the new U.S. Airlines for Open Skies Coalition submitted letters advocating their respective positions prior to the deadline.

In its own statement, the U.S. Travel Association made it clear which side it supports.

"We welcome the U.S. Airlines for Open Skies Coalition to the fight to preserve an institution that has enormously benefited U.S. consumers, job creation, and the economy. It sends a potent message that not only does the business community overwhelmingly oppose what the Big Three and their unions are trying to do to Open Skies -- but even major elements of their own industry disagree with them as well," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. "Atlas Holdings, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines, and JetBlue have been valuable partners from close to the beginning of the Open Skies debate, all signing an industry letter circulated by U.S. Travel last month. But this new coalition represents a stepped-up commitment against the war on competition inherent in the Big Three's agenda."

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