Victory for Gulf airlines as US government ends Open Skies row with no further action

The US government says talks it held over the Open Skies policy with Arabian Gulf carriers were constructive and ended without any formal action.

The US State Department held talks with Qatar government officials on Monday and with the UAE the week before over issues raised more than a year ago by the three largest US airlines over allegations that the Gulf carriers were competing unfairly.

The State Department said, however, that while it looked seriously at the allegations it has taken no formal action.

Over the past week, the US and the UAE and Qatar “held informal technical discussions on our bilateral civil aviation relationship,” said senior State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson. “The informal technical discussions were government-to-government only [and] we have not invoked the consultations provision of our bilateral Open Skies agreements,” she added.

The talks had been arranged for some time as part of the ongoing debate since the three biggest US carriers – American, United and Delta Air Lines – raised the charges in spring last year.

At the heart of their charges were claims that the Gulf airlines were heavily subsidised by their host governments, charges that were robustly countered over the past year.

Etihad yesterday, for example, issued a report commissioned by UK economics research outfit Oxford Economics arguing that its contribution to the US economy, including all the business related to the passengers it ferries to six major US cities, was nearly $11 billion a year.

Ms Thompson said that while “the US government takes seriously the concerns raised by our airlines, we also remain committed to our US Open Skies policy, which has greatly benefitted the travelling public, the US aviation industry, American cities and the broader US economy through increased travel and trade and job growth”.

Opinion among US industry had been divided, with some unions backing the three US airlines, but others, including the US Travel Association, and rival airlines such as JetBlue and Alaska Air opposing the move as anti-competitive.

Ms Thompson added that “the two sides intend to remain in contact on the topics covered in these discussions.”

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