Divide and conquer. It is a tactic as old as warfare itself, and when done correctly, it can be ruthlessly effective.
Luckily, the Business Travel Coalition’s Kevin Mitchell is no Sun Tzu. Mitchell thinks that, since Delta, United, and American and their employees stand united in opposition to the ME3’s anti-competitive and job-killing practices, the best way to advocate for Gulf carrier interests is to try and sew discord between the three airlines. It’s a desperate tactic, and it has failed.
You might notice that Mr. Mitchell, one of the most vocal supporters of the State of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates’ illegal subsidization of their respective airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad, is taking hints from the same strategy his clients have pursued in Europe. Because it is now widely accepted among policymakers in the US and EU that the Gulf carriers are indeed heavily subsidized, (as has been made clear, it’s impossible to dispute the overwhelming and quantifiable evidence presented over the past two years), the Gulf carriers and their paid-allies have had to find new ways to attempt to smear the facts and protect their brands.
Two airlines, specifically Qatar Airways & Etihad did this by strategically investing in European airlines and holding companies, allowing their influence to spread. They sought to systematically undermine local EU governments’ ability to effectively move to enforce existing trade agreements by interweaving their brand into EU airlines. These are airlines that, given a level playing field, would have had to exit the market- they couldn’t compete with their rival carriers.
Instead, companies like Etihad infused them with subsidized state capital in an attempt to distort the market, gain local influence, and undermine their solvent competitors. As the Abu Dhabi government has started to struggle with the extent of Etihad’s subsidization (they fired their CEO, James Hogan, earlier this year), less cash has been available for these failing European carriers. The result? Less subsidized cash means they can’t remain in business, and airlines like airberlin have had to close their doors or liquidate.
In fact, earlier this year, Qatar Airways attempted to invest in American Airlines with the aim of making it a conflict of interest for them to participate in the policy effort to end the illegal trade violations being perpetuated by their national owner. The differences in this instance are that American Airlines isn’t a failing carrier and US carriers can see through the Gulf carriers’ game, and stand firmly united in the face of their aggression. Qatar ultimately backed down after American Airlines made it clear, that hostile investment or not, they were not giving up the fight against Qatar’s Open Skies’ violations.
Mr. Mitchell will not succeed in dividing the US carriers and their employees on the critical issue of preserving our Open Skies agreements and ensuring they are fairly enforced. Unlike Mitchell, the US carriers have the interests of fair competition and of hard-working American aviation employees across the country at heart. The Gulf carriers’ European strategy may have borne some fruit at one time, but the Business Travel Coalition’s weak attempt at replicating this failing strategy is dead on arrival.
Are you frustrated by Mr. Mitchell’s attempts to undermine American competitiveness and his support of foreign entities actively working to undermine our trade agreements? To learn more and get involved join us at fairskies.org.