American authorities have given Tim Clark, the president of Emirates airline, a “positive and receptive” hearing in his bid to maintain “open skies” aviation freedoms in the face of opposition from some US airlines.
Mr Clark, launching Emirates’ response to allegations of unfair state subsidies and anti-competitive business practice by Arabian Gulf airlines, said that he had met officials from three US government departments, and they had “listened to the facts”.
He said the three departments – state, commerce and transport – had set up an inter-agency group to consider the American response to the increasingly bitter spat, which Mr Clark said had been damaging to the global aviation industry.
He said that the secretaries of three departments – John Kerry at state, Penny Pritzker at commerce and Anthony Foxx at transport – had been involved in deliberations over the dispute, and that he believed it had been brought to the attention of the “highest government circles” in US and the UAE.
US officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr Clark was speaking to journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, where he unveiled a 400-page rebuttal of allegations by US legacy carriers – American, Delta and United – that Emirates was unfairly subsidised by the government of Dubai and had used its financial positions to expand in the US at the expense of the US carriers.
“The subsidy allegations put forward are patently false. We have been profitable for 27 years straight and, unlike our accusers, we have never depended on government bailouts or protection from competition,” he said.
He had strong words on the US “legacy carriers”, which produced a 50-page “white paper” in January levelling the allegations at Emirates. “The methods employed by the US legacy carriers to discredit Emirates have been surprising and, quite frankly, repugnant. We do not underestimate their lobbying prowess, but facts are facts,” he added.
However, he appeared to rule out legal action against the “troika” of American carriers, as he has previously threatened. “I don’t believe it will end up in legal action. It’s a government issue at the end of the day, but their ability of intervene in the open skies process is limited.
“If I’ve used firm language so be it, because some people have to understand that Emirates will stand its ground. But we also want to draw a line in the sand.”
He said that the dispute had been damaging to global aviation. “This can be a fragile business, its not an industry that deals with disaster very well. Turning on itself in a public manner could fracture the industry, break up alliances and increase the chances of anti-trust legislation.”
The group representing the US carriers issued a statement in response to Mr Clark’s comments. “Emirates can submit as many pages as it wants, but it still won’t paper over what has been well documented: Emirates has received billions in subsidies and unfair benefits from the treasury of the UAE,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.
Mr Clark also revealed that Emirates was in talks with airport and municipal leaders in Philadelphia to make the city Emirates’ eleventh US destination. “They are not the only ones who want us to fly to their city. This is why it makes no sense to say we’ve damaged US aviation,” he said.
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