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Sparks Fly Between U.S. Air Giants and Oil Rich Sheiks

Today, all U.S. airlines are covered by bilateral Open Skies Agreements negotiated by the U.S. State Department with 120 countries, ensuring fair and free trade in airline services for both American and International operators. Under those agreements, the airlines are free to determine and expand their own routes to and from all other nations covered by those agreements.

The terms of the agreements, however, ban government subsidies to their own national airlines. Yet, U.S. airlines are currently in direct competition with three, high priced, Middle East luxury airlines the Americans say are in open violation of the government subsidy ban: Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways. Together, they have receivedover $50 billion in national government Middle East oil money.

In advertisements, Emirates brags about the showers on their planes available to passengers. That $50 billion in oil money can buy a lot of amenities.One ad features Jennifer Aniston asking flight attendants on an American plane where the showers are located. She gets laughter in response.

Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines havepressed the Trump Administration to enforce the letter of the Open Skies Agreements. In retaliation, the head of Qatar Airways Sheik Akbar Al Baker complained—to guests at a Dublin gala celebrating the opening of a new route between Dublin and Doha—that the flight attendants on U.S. airlines are “grandmothers” and that US airlines are “crap.”

His remarks drew aresponse from the President of the Allied Pilots Association in the U.S. Dan Carey in which he said, “I have news for Mr. Al Baker: We love grandmothers, and we’re proud of our co-workers skill and experience. We rely on it every day on flights across the globe.”

But Carey’s remarks will likely not dissuade the sheik as he hasopenly bragged that he would “do business with the devil if it was win-win.”

Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways have offered no defense or even denial for their billions in oil money subsidies, which are banned by the express language of the Open Skies Agreements their nations have signed. Banned for good reason since there cannot be free competition and true free trade when one side has both hands buried deep into their national treasuries. 

This is an opportunity for President Trump to keep America great and defend American jobs by promoting beneficial free trade by simply enforcing the letter of existing free trade agreements. He should do precisely that. Tens of thousands of American workers in American airlines are counting on him.

Peter Ferrara is a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute, a Senior Policy Adviser to the National Tax Limitation Committee, and Principal and General Counsel at the Raddington Group, an international economic consulting firm. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush.

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