Unsustainable Aviation? The US Open Skies Debate

According to the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, Gulf-owned Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates aim to dominate global aviation by exploiting Open Skies policy and using subsidies to exploit their unfettered access to the US market, thereby threatening the US airline industry, airline jobs and the US economy.

However, an industry analysis released by the Business Travel Coalition claims that the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies anti-Gulf airline campaign is “Spinning to the core of the abyss.” Here’s the full release:

The abyss of spin is when someone is so desperate to concoct a compelling story that they become confused about whether they are on False Facts 1.0 or 2.0 or 3.0.  Anti-Open Skies advocates and their political campaign to stamp out airline competition has reached this lowly distinction. As a result, their attempt to resuscitate their failed advocacy campaign increasingly looks like a Three Stooges episode.

The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies (“Partnership”), more aptly, the Partnership for Less Consumer Choice and Higher Airfares, just released a newspaper ad claiming a single Emirates Airline Newark-Athens-Dubai flight — there has been no U.S.-Greece year-round non-stop air service for five years because U.S. airlines have chosen not to offer it — puts 10 million American jobs at risk.

The same group, led by Delta Air Lines, then released a cable television commercial claiming competition with Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways (“Gulf Carriers”) puts 1.2 million U.S. airline jobs at risk, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (“DOT”) Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicates that as of January 2017 there are only 687,000 full and part-time U.S. airline employees. To add to the confusion, the Association of Flight Attendants, a member of the Partnership, recently testified before the U.S. Congress that 300,000 U.S. airline jobs are at risk.

So which number is accurate? Of course, the answer is none of them. They are political talking points with no basis in reality. The largest U.S. airlines are making record-setting profits because there is too little, not too much, competition.

U.S. airline jobs have soared by over 15 percent in the past two years. In 2016 alone employee profit sharing payouts at Delta Air Lines totalled $1.1 billion (down from $1.5 billion in 2015, the largest payout in the history of corporate profit sharing programs), $628 million at United Airlines and $314 million at American Airlines.

Facts are stubborn things. The reality is that the Partnership cannot point to a single Delta Air Lines, American Airlines or United Airlines (“Big 3”) widebody aircraft that has been parked or a single employee that has been furloughed due to competition with Gulf Carriers. Their entire narrative is fiction. All their widebody aircraft and the crew for them are flying and helping the Big 3 continue to rake in record profits.

One cannot blame the Partnership for tripping over their False Facts. They have so many that they cannot help but step on one at every turn.  In 2015 and 2016, the Partnership claimed each widebody flight not operated due to Gulf Carrier competition cost 800 jobs. That same claim in 2017 by the Partnership morphed into 1,500 jobs. In a recent written statement to the U.S. Congress, the Air Line Pilots Association (“ALPA”), also a member of the Partnership, used the old False Fact 1.0 that 800 jobs are lost.  Apparently, ALPA didn’t get the memo from the Partnership that False Fact 1.0 had failed so they were upgrading to False Fact 2.0. However, ALPA should not feel singled out. Americans for Fair Skies, another advocacy group for the anti-Open Skies U.S. airlines, apparently did not receive that memo either. That group’s website still displays False Fact 1.0.

Many industry observers wonder why the Big 3 failed to take the customary and longstanding course of filing an International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act (“IATFCPA”) complaint with DOT. That is the time-honored action U.S. airlines have taken when they have a grievance with foreign airline competitors.

The explanation is simple: IATFCPA is a fact-based review and the Big 3 know they cannot make a case under IATFCPA’s exacting factual requirements. The Big 3 and the Partnership assert their case is “irrefutable.” However, their failure to file an IATFCPA complaint is most telling. They know False Facts 1.0, 2.0 and beyond simply won’t cut it in a DOT review. But, disingenuously, they are hoping these False Facts nonetheless are sufficient for their political campaign.

About the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies: This partnership is a coalition composed of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, along with the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l, the Allied Pilots Association, the Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the Communications Workers of America and the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association.

About the Business Travel Coalition: Founded in 1994, the mission of Business Travel Coalition is to interpret industry and government policies and practices and provide a platform so that the managed travel community can influence issues of strategic importance to their organisations. www.businesstravelcoalition.com

About OpenSkies.travel: The mission of OpenSkies.travel is to bring significant organisation to the task of maintaining aviation liberalisation agreements in accordance with the intent of the signatories to such accords. Members include corporate, university and government travel managers, travel management companies and distributors, travel industry suppliers, consumer groups and travel organisations from around the world.

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