(Adds additional comment from Parker, Lufthansa CEO Spohr.)
By Victoria Bryan and Alwyn Scott
MIAMI, June 8 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways’ chief executive officer on Monday called for the aviation industry’s largest trade group to address protectionism, hitting back against U.S. airlines campaigning to restrict what they say is heavily subsidized competition from Gulf carriers.
U.S. airlines are trying to persuade their government to alter the “Open Skies” agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, accusing them of lavishing their airlines with than $40 billion in subsidies and distorting competition. Emirates , Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways deny the subsidy claims.
“Any rollback of liberal market access and Open Skies policies will reverberate across the whole world and will lead to retaliatory protectionism affecting all aspects of trade,” Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker said at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual meeting in Miami.
Following Al Baker’s comments, IATA Director General Tony Tyler said the body was in favor of liberalization. IATA has said it has no mandate to formally act on the issue.
“IATA and its members are fully in favor of growing liberalization, free and fair competition, that’s the policy of members and policy of IATA,” Tyler said in response to questions from journalists.
Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines Group Inc, acknowledged the carrier has code-share alliances with Qatar and Etihad, but said the United States must enforce its trade policies.
“We’ve produced evidence to the U.S. government that indeed other countries are subsidizing carriers that are flying to the United States,” Parker said at a news conference after Al Baker’s remarks.
Parker said the U.S. government was working diligently on the issue and was in regular communication with the airlines. He said the U.S. government’s timeline was not clear, but he hoped it would act soon.
While U.S. carriers like American and Delta Air Lines Inc have closed ranks on the issue, others, like global cargo carrier FedEx Corp and Emirates codeshare partner JetBlue Airways Corp have stood up for the Open Skies agreements, voicing concern that changes would set a bad precedent.
But Germany’s Lufthansa, whose business on routes to Asia have been hurt by competition from the Gulf carriers, echoed Delta and American’s concerns on Sunday.
“There’s various ways to how you can achieve balance of openness. It could be limitations of destinations, limitations of frequencies,” Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said in a media briefing. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Alwyn Scott and Jeffrey Dastin in Miami; Writing by Christian Plumb; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)