By Captain Lee Moak
There has been a lot of attention recently around the government subsidies Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been funneling to their airlines, which are distorting the international aviation marketplace and violating the aviation trade agreements they hold with the United States, known as Open Skies Agreements. Over $42 billion in government subsidies from foreign competition is devastating for an industry that represents 5% of U.S. GDP and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it directly supports. While this risk to American jobs, and the fact that the subsidies run directly counter to U.S. trade policy, is more than enough reason to expect the U.S. government to call for trade consultations with these two countries to resolve the subsidy violations, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reason these subsidies have the potential to devastate not only the U.S. economy, but to jeopardize U.S. national security as well.
I spent more than twenty years flying for the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy as a fighter pilot, where my job was working to protect this country and its citizens. As a commercial airline pilot for a U.S. airline, my contribution to this country’s national security did not end. Serving as a CRAF (Civil Reserve Air Fleet) pilot, I was called on to fly activated commercial airline support and defend our country at a time of national emergency, including missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The importance of preserving a U.S. based aviation industry isn’t just about the important economic benefits it provides. It’s also about the support provided to the U.S. military by U.S. airlines and their employees as the result of an expansive U.S. airline network and fleet. U.S. airlines and their employees have been called upon in tens of thousands of CRAF and Military Airlift Command (MAC) missions supporting U.S. national defense and foreign policy, moving hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, and millions of pounds of cargo. This is a cornerstone of the U.S. military’s capabilities, saving U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars annually, and it’s been a vital part of our national defense for over 60 years.
By subsidizing their airlines with more than $42 billion, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are threatening the bedrock of the CRAF program. U.S. airlines are forced to compete against these countries – not their airlines – for international market share, creating unfair competition on an unlevel playing field. Ultimately, facing such drastic subsidies, U.S. airlines will lose or have to forgo international routes, and thereby be unable to sustain the wide-body aircraft utilized to fly both international commercial routes and CRAF missions, undercutting the U.S. military’s ability to call upon U.S. airlines for support for military and humanitarian missions. This can’t be allowed to happen.
As U.S. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice recently said, “Increased trade and investment is good for the global economy, but to realize its full potential, everyone has to play by the same rules.” When we allow the violations of agreements signed between nations to go unchecked and instead allow the countries perpetuating said violations to encroach on our national interests, we relinquish the ability to not only support our national economy, but also turn the stability of our national security over to the whims of foreign entities with priorities vastly different from U.S. national security interests.
In regards to the subsidy violations of Open Skies being perpetuated by Qatar and the UAE, the U.S. government has taken its first steps towards investigating by opening a joint docket to collect further evidentiary findings. As this process progresses, however, the subsidized Gulf carriers are ramping up their routes into the U.S. in anticipation of a freeze on new routes once formal consultations between nations begin. The U.S. government must act now to freeze new routes for these subsidized carriers into the U.S. until a resolution to the subsidy violations is found. Thousands of U.S. jobs, and the viability of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, depend on fair skies free of subsidies. The time for U.S. government action to restore fairness is now.
Learn more at FairSkies.Org.
Moak is president of Americans for Fair Skies, a veteran U.S. Marine Corp and Navy fighter pilot, former United States Commercial Airline pilot, and the former president of Air Line Pilots Association, International.
Originally found on thehill.com: Subsidy violations don’t just hurt economy; they threaten national security