Right or wrong, the US airlines’ beef against the big 3 Gulf carriers — they want the US government to impose restrictions on Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — won’t go anywhere because o matter what overcharged rhetoric comes from US carriers,
- The government acting to give consumers fewer flights and higher fares isn’t going to be politically popular as election season heats up precisely around the time the issue would become ripe for action.
- The US government has bigger fish to fry with the UAE and Qatar — security interests, centered around terrorism and ISIS — that the juice won’t be worth the squeeze to prioritize US airline interests.
Of course, the claims being made by the US carriers are completely disingenuous (and even contain faked quotes in their white paper). State-owned airlines are common in the world, including partners of US airlines which are hugely subsidized as well. And the US airlines continue their close cooperation with Gulf carriers even as they sharpen their knives. It’s an incestuous, tangled web indeed — rivaling that classic Soap.
Two recent updates in the ongoing saga.
British Airways and IAG filed its response to the US Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and Department of State about the US airlines’ request for government action against Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar.
The consumer benefits brought to the US traveling public by the Gulf carriers are hard to ignore. New flights have opened up an array of new destinations and direct city-pairs, added to the choice of airlines available on existing destinations, and introduced levels of customer service rarely seen in this market. Not only do Gulf carriers bring competitive service and prices, they also stimulate the market, so that much of the increase in their own passenger traffic is incremental, not taken from existing operators.
The White Paper makes much of the Gulf carrier impacts in relation to passengers travelling indirectly e.g. between India and the US, as if consumers should be denied this choice. Passengers travelling between two points on the globe do not belong to any particular airline or group of airlines. Airlines must compete to offer passengers what they want. The outdated concept of ownership of passenger traffic must be rejected by all governments.
British Airways of course is joint venture partner of American, and so this is ultimately an attack on their partner. (Qatar recently acquired a ~ 10% stake in BA parent IAG.)
Meanwhile, Etihad responded to the study by US airlines about subsidies provided to the big 3 Gulf airlines with a study detailing the even greater subsidies received by the big 3 legacy US airlines.
These figures do not count the subsidies (like government-backed financing for American’s first major aircraft order, and collusive Postal Service mail contracts that culminated in the Air Mail scandal and the banning of airline executives from the industry) from the US’ own ‘startup era’ which is where complaints focus for the Gulf carriers.
US airlines would be better off if they were forced to compete instead of running to the government for protection.