Note to Trump: If You Back U.S. Labor, Then Block Emirates’ Athens-Newark Flight

As they battle rapid U.S. expansion by the subsidized Middle East airlines, the three U.S. global airlines have made it clear they have just one principal goal: They want Emirates, Etihad and Qatar to be kept from operating fifth freedom flights.

Fifth freedom flights allow airlines to fly between two foreign countries.

Emirates on Monday said it would begin Athens-Newark flights on March 12. Emirates already operates Milan to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, the only other fifth freedom flight operated by a Middle East carrier.

United Airlines (UAL) already flies Newark-Athens as a seasonal flight with a Boeing 767-300ER scheduled to operate between May 24 and early October.

“By flagrantly violating its Open Skies agreement with the United States at the start of the Trump administration, Emirates is throwing down the gauntlet,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

“We look forward to working with President Trump and his team to enforce these agreements and protect American jobs — something that the Obama administration failed to do,” Zuckman said.

Government subsidies to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have exceeded $50 billion, the partnership said. U.S. carriers, operated for profit, said the subsidies make it tough to compete.

Donald Trump, U.S. president, met with labor leaders from the building trades on Monday night but not with any from the transportation trades. Backing U.S. workers and staunching the flow of U.S. jobs to offshore companies were key themes for the Trump campaign.

Twelve days ago, during the Delta (DAL) earnings call, CEO Ed Bastian was asked what changes he expects to see during the Trump administration.

“We are very excited about the opportunities to present our case relative to the Middle Eastern situation with all the growth that those carriers have brought to this country on a subsidized basis where we are competing against governments, not the other airlines and {about} the opportunity to let the Trump administration know how we can do, as an industry, a better job of protecting U.S. jobs and U.S. opportunities going forward,” Bastian said.

Delta also wants Trump to know how the airline industry can do better at “protecting trade deals and enforcing trade deals that are being violated in the present time,” Bastian said.

In July, after a year and a half of lobbying by the partnership, the State Department met for informal talks with UAE officials and separately with Qatar officials on July 25.

Those talks went nowhere.

The Middle East carriers serve the U.S. under Open Skies agreements.

Subsidies violate Open Skies policy. Additionally, Open Skies agreements were generally intended to assure that U.S. carriers could fly to foreign countries and the foreign countries’ airlines could serve the U.S. so that commercial air traffic could flow freely between two countries.

The agreements didn’t envision a subsidized airline flying a dozen daily U.S. flights, with the vast majority of passengers flying to a foreign airline’s hub simply to connect to a third country.

No U.S. carriers fly to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Early in 2016, United dropped a Washington Dulles-Dubai flight and Delta dropped its Atlanta-Dubai flight. Rapid expansion by the subsidized Middle East carriers had diminished the likelihood that U.S. passengers would connect to Dubai flights.

“Enormous subsidies put U.S. airlines at a tremendous economic disadvantage and threaten U.S. airline workers’ jobs — and fly in the face of the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ governing philosophy,” the Air Line Pilots Association said Monday in a prepared statement. ALPA represents about 54,000 pilots at 31 airlines.

“We urge the Trump administration to do what the Obama administration failed to do and stand up for U.S. workers and demand that the United Arab Emirates government end these subsidies,” ALPA said.

Originally Published on The Street.