The big three U.S. airlines and most of their labor unions say that planned new flights from Milan to California’s two key airports violate a deal they made with Qatar Airways just ten months ago.
Qatar owns 49% of Air Italy, which said Wednesday that it will begin service from Milan to Los Angeles and San Francisco in April. Both flights will operate four times weekly aboard an Airbus A330-200 seating 252 passengers in two classes, according to press reports.
The long dispute over whether the subsidized big three Mideast carriers’ aggressive U.S. expansion violates Open Skies agreements had seemed to have ended this year in settlements, first with the government of Qatar in late January and then with the governments of the United Arab Emirates in May. Emirates and Etihad operate hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, respectively.
The dispute has focused on two areas, opaque accounting that seems to hide the subsidies to the carriers and flights operated under the airline industry’s fifth freedom rights, which enable carriers to fly between two foreign countries.
On Monday, eleven Republican U.S. senators led by Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised the fifth freedom issue in a letter to three cabinet members. The letter noted after Qatar Airways acquired 49% of Air Italy’s parent company last year, Air Italy began service from Milan to New York and to Miami. Also, the letter said, Qatar Airways is providing aircraft to Air Italy.
It appears that either the senators had learned of the planned California service or Qatar is responding to the letter.
“With today’s news of new routes from Air Italy to the U.S., fueled by money from Qatar Airways, the government of Qatar has demonstrated a stunning lack of respect for President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo,” Scott Reed, campaign manager for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, said Thursday in a prepared statement.
The partnership represents American, Delta, United and most of their labor unions, as well as the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
“When the Trump administration negotiated an agreement with Qatar earlier this year to protect American jobs and restore fair competition to international aviation, the Qatari government agreed that its state-owned airline would not launch future fifth freedom flights to the U.S,” Reed said.
“By exploiting its investment in Air Italy to create a loophole and dodge this pledge, Qatar has violated this agreement and the trust of the United States,” he said. “We expect the Trump administration will take strong action and stand up for American workers in response to these violations.”
Qatar Airways declined to comment. In a January letter to the U.S. government, Qatar said it had no plans to launch fifth freedom flights to the U.S.
Originally Published on Forbes.