Air Italy plans North American growth despite US protests

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Air Italy plans to announce at least two additional North American destinations for the summer of 2020, as the airline expands transatlantic service despite opposition from US legacy carriers.

The carrier also hopes to unveil its first US interline partner later this year, chief operating officer Rossen Dimitrov tells FlightGlobal.

He declines to specify the new destinations pending agreements with airport operators, but says one of the two will likely be seasonal. In addition, Air Italy sees potential for one of its two Californian destinations – Los Angeles and San Francisco – to convert to year-round service in 2020, says Dimitrov.

The Italian carrier recently added seasonal service to Toronto from Milan Malpensa, after launching seasonal flights from Milan to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. It plans to suspend US seasonal flights later this year in favour of destinations like the Maldives, Mombasa, Tenerife and Zanzibar. Air Italy serves Miami and New York John F Kennedy year-round.

Its expansion across the Atlantic is unfolding as Air Italy becomes the focus of a years-long campaign backed by three US mainline carriers, which allege that Air Italy‘s 49% shareholder Qatar Airways is using the smaller carrier as a proxy to expand into the USA.

The US airlines – American AirlinesDelta Air Lines and United Airlines – are backed by their unions in the lobbying coalition, called The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies.

Dimitrov, who dismisses the allegations as “baseless”, says the campaign by the US carriers will have no impact on how Air Italyexpands its North American network.

“Why should it? We are a European airline which is completely compliant with regulations,” says Dimitrov.

Despite Qatar Airways‘ stake in Air Italy, the Italian carrier does not codeshare with the Doha-based carrier on its routes to the USA from Milan, points out Dimitrov.

“It has always been the case,” he says. “Let them [the US carriers] prove we’ve done it.”

Air Italy does not carry Qatar Airways‘ code on any flights, Cirium schedules data show. The Gulf airline carries Air Italy‘s code on routes between Doha and four Italian destinations, according to schedules.

The campaign by the three US legacy carriers has made it difficult for any potential partnerships, as Air Italy seeks its first interline and codeshare deals across the Atlantic.

“We will be happy to work with American, Delta and United, I have all respect for them. Instead of us fighting, we could work together,” says Dimitrov.

The Italian carrier, in the meantime, is in talks with other potential US partners.

“In terms of the interline, we might be able to announce something this year as long as the work gets completed,” he says. An interline agreement will be the first step towards forming a codeshare partnership, he adds, saying Air Italy could potentially partner more than one US carrier.

Given the dominance of the US legacy carriers, Air Italy will not have many other US airlines to choose from if it wants a codeshare partnership with substantial coverage from its year-round US destinations of Miami and New York JFK.

At JFKJetBlue Airways is likely the best option. New York-based JetBlue, which has partnerships with several foreign carriers, is the second largest airline at the airport after Delta.

American operates more than half of the capacity out of Miami, Cirium schedules data show. Aside from the US legacy carriers, only Frontier Airlines operates US domestic service from Miami.

Originally Published on Flight Global.

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Qatar Accused of Violating Agreements in Bid to Undercut U.S. Air Carriers

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U.S. air carriers are calling foul on Qatar for violating an international agreement aimed at leveling the playing field for international airlines, a backdoor move that has seen the small oil rich nation inject tens of millions of dollars into a once-defunct Italian airline.

Qatar in 2018 signed on to an agreement known as the Open Skies Act that was meant to prevent the nation from using its massive cash reserves to subsidize its international air carrier, Qatar Airways. Soon after the agreement, Qatar devised a backdoor scheme to purchased a stake in the failing Italian airline Meridiana and use it to violate the terms of the agreement.

The original agreement was meant to stop Qatar’s expansion into the United States and focused on national security issues, such as Doha’s continued support for extremist terror groups across the Middle East. In purchasing a major stake in Meridiana, now branded as Air Italy, Qatar was able to sidestep the agreement.

U.S. air carriers and some in Congress are now calling on the Trump administration to hold Qatar accountable for its violation of the Open Skies Act, arguing that the purchase of Air Italy has enabled Qatar to offer bargain rates for flights into the United States.ADVERTISING

U.S.-based airlines are now feeling the pressure and jointly sponsored a full page New York Timesadvertisement urging the Trump administration to hold Qatar accountable for its backdoor dealings.

“Qatar Airways is ignoring the 2018 agreement that your administration signed by using massive government subsidies to launch new routes to the United States through its stake in Air Italy,” states the advertisement, which was signed by American Airlines, Delta, and United. “Air Italy was a struggling regional carrier until Qatar Airways injected tens of millions of dollars into the company to circumvent the agreement and expand its U.S. presence.”

“In the last few days, Qatar Airways has used its Italian proxy to launch routes to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and added flights to Miami—a further effort to undermine U.S. airlines. Simply put, Qatar Airways represents a grave threat to American jobs and the health of the airline industry,” the carriers wrote. “No rule-abiding business can compete with a massively subsidized airline that ignores economic realities and can wipe away losses with one infusion of government cash after another.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in recent comments before concerned members of Congress, assured lawmakers he is working on the issue and is in discussions with Qatar to ensure it upholds its commitments under the Open Skies Act.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), during a hearing with Pompeo, chastised Qatar for breaching the agreement.

“At the same time as the agreement was being negotiated, Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in Air Italy, a formerly struggling regional Italian carrier, and rebranded it as an international carrier with flights to five U.S. destinations from Milan. That runs directly counter to the one-year agreement,” Menendez said.

“I have personally engaged in this issue and we are working to make sure every party to those agreements complies with every element of those agreements,” Pompeo responded. “The U.S. government sees what’s going on, and we’re working to put this agreement—we think it was a good agreement and we’re trying to ensure it’s enforced.”

A State Department official, speaking to the Washington Free Beacon on background, said that U.S. officials are working to address the concerns raised by lawmakers and U.S. air carriers.

“The Department of State is committed to leveling the playing field and ensuring American companies have the opportunity to succeed globally,” the official said. “Some U.S. airlines have raised concerns about subsidized competition. Since 2017, the Department of State has led serious negotiations with Qatar—and the United Arab Emirates—to address those concerns.”

“We have sought to do so while maintaining the Open Skies framework of U.S. international aviation policy,” the official said. “Our goal is to provide beneficial results for as many U.S. stakeholders as possible.”

Lawmakers have petitioned the White House in recent months to exert greater pressure on Qatar, arguing that American jobs are at stake.

“Not only does Qatar’s cheating undermine competition and threaten American workers—over 1,500 American jobs are lost for every route launched into the U.S. by a subsidized Middle Eastern carrier—but it directly and deliberately threats our ‘American First’ policies,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) wrote in a recent letter to the White House. “Mr. President, I urge you to continue standing up to Qatar and demanding enforcement of the deal they are violating or we must withdraw from the agreement altogether.”

Qatar has defended its acquisition of Air Italy in public comments, maintaining that U.S. air carriers are being unfairly “hostile” to the country.

“Qatar Airways’ investment in Air Italy was a matter of public knowledge (as were Qatar Airways’ investments in other airlines) at the time of the U.S.-Qatar discussions; airline investments were not raised as a point of concern during those talks,” Qatar Airways said in a statement. “The Understandings do not mention or prohibit cross-border investments of any type.”

“Furthermore, Qatar Airways does not codeshare on any of Air Italy’s flights to the United States, and has no plans to do so,” the carrier said. “Qatar Airways is not operating any Fifth Freedom scheduled air services to the U.S.”

Originally published on The Washington Free Beacon.

americans4fairskies2015Qatar Accused of Violating Agreements in Bid to Undercut U.S. Air Carriers
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Testing Time on Trade

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The distinguishing feature of the Trump Administration’s economic policy has been its approach to international trade. Its “fair and reciprocal” trade philosophy has embraced tariffs as a strategic tool to force trade talks, it has focused closely on issues of bilateral trade balance, and it has signaled a surprising comfort with non-tariff barriers to trade (e.g., quotas and regional content rules in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement). The debate over the desirability of these features will continue, but one thing is quite clear: Unless trade agreements are enforced, it does not matter what philosophy drives their negotiation.

From that perspective, the administration is facing a testing period on trade. The China talks continue to drag on, reportedly largely over disagreements on enforcing the negotiated provisions. Because the talks are private, it is difficult to assess the state of play. But there is a very visible test facing the White House as well: Qatar and the Open Skies agreements for international commercial aviation.

Air Italy — the thinly disguised front for Qatar Airways — launched its inaugural flight from Milan to Los Angeles, on top of last year’s Milan to New York-JFK and Milan to Miami flights. These so-called “fifth freedom” flights are fundamentally non-economic for Air Italy or Qatar Airways (which bought a 49 percent stake in Air Italy and launched the new routes). This reality raises the suspicion that Qatar continues to subsidize Qatar Airways to offset these losses. Any such subsidies are a violation of the U.S.-Qatar Open Skies agreement (there are 120 U.S. bilateral Open Skies agreements designed to prevent government intervention in commercial airline travel). The logic of this agreement was impeccable. If it was not possible to channel subsidies to the airlines, they would not be able to run unprofitable international routes, and pricing would be on a playing field level with international competitors. Any genuinely non-economic fifth freedom route would simply disappear. And over a year ago, Qatar Airways further committed to greater financial transparency. It appeared to be a big win for trade enforcement.

Experience suggests that the financial reporting is not transparent enough to stop the Qatar government from continuing to funnel billions in illegal subsidies to Qatar Airways. The issue has been highlighted by Senator Ted Cruz, who has indicated he plans to hold a Senate hearing on the matter. And it has been acknowledged by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said, “Make no mistake about it. American jobs are impacted when other countries subsidize the airlines. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”

It is crunch time for adherence to Open Skies. How will the administration react?

Originally Published on American Action Forum.

americans4fairskies2015Testing Time on Trade
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Air Italy’s New Uniform Just Cements the Concern its Qatar Airways With a Different Name

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Of all the different branding elements that an airline can use, the cabin crew uniform has to be one of the most important.  From the distinctive red hats worn by Emirates cabin crew or the iconic sarong kabaya of Singapore Airlines, the right uniform can instantly bring brand recognition and evoke feelings of trust and professionalism.

It’s understandable then that airlines spend a fair amount of time, effort and money developing the right uniform.  Staff not only have to be smart and professional but the look has to make them ‘stand out from the crowd’ – a walking billboard if you like that will hopefully make passengers stop in their tracks.

You would have thought then that a new airline would want to dress its crew in a uniform that really is different.  That, however, can’t be said of Air Italy – look quickly and you could easily be forgiven for thinking they’re from Qatar Airways.

It’s a strange decision and one that is only going to cement the concern raised by many critics that Air Italy is a subsidiary of State-funded Qatar Airways – being used to circumvent an agreement the Persian Gulf country reached with the United States last year.

Air Italy isn’t technically brand new – Qatar Airways bought a 49% stake in little-known Italian airline Meridiana a couple of years ago.  Then, in February 2018, Qatar Airways announced plans to rebrand Meridiana as Air Italy – there are plans to grow the ‘new’ airline quite significantly over the next few years.

By 2022, Air Italy hopes to have 50 aircraft in its fleet – the airline will be getting brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s, as well as 737 MAX aircraft that have all been funded by Qatar Airways.  In the interim, Qatar Airways has also leased out its own A330 aircraft.

Air Italy says it will work with Qatar Airways to “build a sustainable airline alternative for the people of Italy”.

In fairness, the involvement of Qatar Airways with Air Italy has always been fairly obvious – the branding makes use of the distinctive Qatari burgundy colour in the bucket load.  Apart from the fact the airline has the word ‘Italy’ in its name, you wouldn’t know it was actually Italian.

And then there’s the uniform – aside from the Air Italy logo and an updated neck scarf, the uniform is exactly the same to the one worn by Qatar Airways cabin crew.  We actually thought this was a temporary solution but no, Air Italy confirms this is the permanent uniform that was originally designed for Qatar Airways by Danish workwear company Olino in 2008.

Critics claim Qatar Airways has received (it’s claimed) over $25 billion in undocumented subsidies from its government owner, so in turn, the argument goes that Air Italy has also been financed through State-funded subsidies.  You would have thought that Air Italy would want to distance itself from its controversial majority shareholder.

The timing for Air Italy’s launch has also raised eyebrows – it came just months after Qatar and the United States reached an agreement over an Open Skies dispute.  Qatar agreed to become more transparent and also said it had no plans to open any fifth-freedom routes to the United States.

You could argue that Qatar Airways investing in Air Italy is no different than any other airline making international investments – say, like Delta Air Lines buying a stake in Virgin Atlantic in order to increase its market share at London’s Heathrow Airport.  But Delta says that’s missing the point.

Qatar Airways isn’t subject to market forces like Delta because it’s funded through government subsidies.  Essentially, they claim the competition that Air Italy is creating might be good for passengers but it’s not fair and could put jobs at risk.

That argument, though, is slightly clouded by the existence of Alitalia.  The Italian flag-carrier hasn’t made a profit in years, is technically bankrupt and is being propped up by a multi-billion Euro government loan paid for by Italian taxpayers.  For all intents and purposes, the airline should have gone out of business but is only still flying because it’s being bankrolled by the Italian State.

The plan is to offload Alitalia on to private investors by the Summer – if that does actually happen (there’s every chance it doesn’t) then that could make it a lot harder to justify where Air Italy is getting its funding from.

Originally published on Paddle Your Own Kanoo.

americans4fairskies2015Air Italy’s New Uniform Just Cements the Concern its Qatar Airways With a Different Name
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Matt Gaetz tells Trump to get tough on Qatar for ‘Cheating’ US Airline Companies

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A GOP lawmaker sent a letter to President Donald Trump Wednesday calling for the White House to take action against Qatar for violating international Open Skies agreements and a 2018 pact between the two countries.

Qatar is “cheating” U.S. airlines by subsidizing foreign competitors, cutting flight prices and outcompeting American companies in U.S. markets, according to GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

Open Skies policies are meant to limit governments from subsidizing and aiding certain airlines or interfering with others by setting strict limits on flight routes, prices and carrying capacity. For years, American carries had accused Qatar and its state-owned airline Qatar Airways of violating Open Skies to capture U.S. markets.

“Last year, you [Trump] negotiated a deal for greater Qatari transparency and to put an end to their illegal subsidies for their state-owned airline Qatar Airways – even including the halt of expansion by Qatar Airways into the United States until these subsidies were completely ended,” Gaetz wrote. “It was an ‘America First’ victory.”

After the bilateral agreement, Qatar Airways purchased a controlling share in the Italian airline Meridiana. Qatar renamed and rebranded the acquisition Air Italy and began subsidizing it with cash and assets, including new planes. Qatar is now using the new company to compete for U.S. flight routes against American companies, Gaetz’s letter said.

“Air Italy is nothing more than a proxy airline for Qatar to get around the deal it signed after pledging to stop this trade cheating,” Gaetz said.

“Not only does Qatar’s cheating undermine competition and threaten American workers – over 1,500 American jobs are lost for every route launched into the U.S. by a subsidized Middle Eastern carrier – but it directly and deliberately threatens our ‘America First’ policies,” Gaetz continued.

Originally published on The Daily Caller.

americans4fairskies2015Matt Gaetz tells Trump to get tough on Qatar for ‘Cheating’ US Airline Companies
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Lawmakers urges Trump to enforce Open Skies deal with Qatar

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A Republican ally of President Trump is urging the president to enforce an agreement with Qatar aimed at stopping illegal subsidies for its state-owned airline, saying the Middle Eastern nation is cheating on the deal and harming U.S. airline workers.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Mr. Trump in a letter obtained by The Washington Times that Qatar is “blatantly” violating the Open Skies agreement that is intended to ensure fair competition.

The lawmaker said soon after the agreement was reached last year, Qatar Airways purchased an Italian regional airline with $100 million euros from the Qatari government and announced that the new “Air Italy” would fly to five cities in the U.S. In December, a bipartisan group of senators raised similar concerns with the administration.

“Not only does Qatar’s cheating undermine competition and threaten American workers — over 1,500 American jobs are lost for every route launched into the U.S. by a subsidized Middle Eastern carrier — but it directly and deliberately threatens our ‘America First’ policies,” the lawmaker wrote.

He said the Open Skies agreement was supposed to halt the expansion by Qatar Airways into the U.S. until its state subsidies were halted completely.

“Air Italy is nothing more than a proxy airline for Qatar to get around the deal it signed after pledging to stop this trade cheating,” Mr. Gaetz wrote to the president.

Originally published on The Washington Times.

americans4fairskies2015Lawmakers urges Trump to enforce Open Skies deal with Qatar
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Newt Gingrich: It’s time to hold Qatar accountable

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Negotiations between nation states require a great deal of flexibility and discipline. In the past few days, we’ve seen a variety of international negotiating tactics from the Trump administration.

Early last week, we saw strategic restraint. President Trump announced he would delay implementation of an additional $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese products due to progress in trade negotiations with the country. After already following through on the implementation of $250 billion in tariffs last year, which brought China to the table, Trump wanted to send a signal that the United States is a good faith partner. Ultimately, this restraint may allow talks to continue to move smoothly.

Then, late last week, we saw a display of strength. The President abruptly cut short his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong un because Kim’s demands were unreasonable. Trump needed to remind the North Korean leader that his country is the one that is economically desolate and isolated, and North Korea needs a deal more than the United States.

In the coming days, I hope we will see another negotiating tactic from President Trump in his administration’s international dealings: resolve.

As I have written before for Fox News, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have for decades subsidized their state-owned airlines in violation of their Open Skies Agreements with the United States.

Open Skies Agreements between countries allow airlines to establish international flights without prior approval from the government. A central tenet of the 126 Open Skies Agreements the United States has with countries that have state-owned carriers is that the flights must reflect actual market demand. This ensures that state-owned carriers do not create international flights that operate at a loss for the purpose of driving other airlines out of business. This ensures a level playing field between privately owned and state-owned airlines.

A strong, resolute response to Qatar from our government would show that the United States is no longer going to put up with global cheating in trade. A weak response sends the signal that the Trump administration is not as effective in standing up for American workers as it needs to be. All these countries we are negotiating with will feel emboldened to cheat.  

Unfortunately, monitoring whether state-owned airlines are living up to this agreement is difficult. For years, Qatar and UAE got away with creating below-market international flights to and from the United States by keeping their finances opaque. But they couldn’t get away with it forever.

The Trump administration took a big step in January 2018 by forcing Qatar to agree to transparency in its airlines’ finances. Also, in a side letter to the agreement, the administration got Qatar’s leadership to commit to refrain from adding more flights from third-party countries to the U.S.

Unfortunately, Qatar quickly began to find ways to circumvent this agreement.

Qatar Airways has a 49 percent stake in Air Italy. However, despite this minority ownership position, the president of Qatar Airways often makes announcements about the future of Air Italy as if he is in charge. This makes sense because Air Italy is depending on Qatar Airways – and thus dependent on the government of Qatar – to stay afloat. Since acquiring the airline in 2017, Qatar Airways has provided cash, airplanes, and other resources. In fact, two years before the announcement, Air Italy operated at a combined 50 million-euro loss. Qatar Airways gave it 100 million euros in cash and guarantees to make up the gap – in addition to aircraft.

Over the course of the last year, Air Italy has launched or announced five new flights from Milan to the United States. This is clearly a violation of the agreement Qatar signed with the Trump administration. Qatar is simply using Air Italy to do that which it agreed not to do – launch heavily subsidized service to the U.S. across the Atlantic.

It is also typical of the type of maneuvers that different countries – especially ones who subsidize their industries – use to circumvent trade agreements and tariffs. They simply buy an ownership stake in a foreign company not subject to the trade measure and go back to their old practices under a new flag.

How the Trump administration responds to Qatar’s truly blatant and obvious cheating is critical.

In addition to the negotiations with China, the U.S. recently came to terms with Mexico and Canada on an updated version of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, which is much fairer to the United States. We also reached an agreement with Asian Pacific countries.

These new agreements won’t be worth the paper they are written on if the United States will not enforce them.

A strong, resolute response to Qatar from our government would show that the United States is no longer going to put up with global cheating in trade. A weak response sends the signal that the Trump administration is not as effective in standing up for American workers as it needs to be. All these countries we are negotiating with will feel emboldened to cheat.

The U.S. should immediately protest Qatar Airways actions to the Qatari government and use full diplomatic pressure to get the government to order their airline to halt the new flights. If the Qatari government does not act quickly, President Trump should be prepared to use the U.S. government’s authority to limit Air Italy’s ability to operate in the United States.

By doing so, President Trump would be standing up for the American workers in the airline industry. He would also be putting the U.S. in a more authoritative position to stand up for workers in all American industries against unfair foreign competition.

Originally published on Fox News.

americans4fairskies2015Newt Gingrich: It’s time to hold Qatar accountable
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Ed Bastian op-ed: Air Italy’s mysterious benefactor

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How Qatari state subsidies flow to an obscure Italian airline, circumventing a key agreement with the U.S. and putting thousands of American jobs at risk.

A Deutsche Bank airline analyst asked a question recently: “Who is funding Air Italy’s losses?”

In a Dec. 7 report, the firm noted the obscure Italian carrier produced a negative pretax margin – i.e., a loss – of 18.4 percent last year, on top of a negative margin of 9.2 percent in 2016, representing losses of hundreds of millions of euros. Yet despite its financial hemorrhaging, the airline suddenly has a fleet of brand new jets, and has announced a major global expansion of flights between Milan and North American cities including New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to solve this particular mystery. The airline’s benefactor is Qatar Airways, the government-owned airline of Qatar, which recently acquired 49 percent of Air Italy. Even though Qatar’s recent financial statements (which remain opaque) show that it is one of the worst performing airlines in the history of the airline industry with over $2 billion of operating losses over the past three years, Qatar has been giving its new acquisition billions of dollars’ worth of new airplanes, including Boeing 787 and 737 jets, with plans to deploy larger Boeing 777 and A350s as well. Qatar is using the tiny, close-to-defunct Air Italy to skirt its promise to the U.S. to not add so-called “Fifth Freedom” flights to the U.S., which are routes that operate outside of a carrier’s home country – such as nonstop flights between the U.S. and Europe. 

Qatar’s promise was part of an agreement with the U.S. in which Qatar said it would finally take steps toward fair competition in aviation, after it had enjoyed the benefits of billions of dollars in government subsidies. These subsidies drove U.S airlines out of the Mideast and India, and threatened thousands of airline jobs in the U.S.

Only months later, Qatar is back to their old tricks, thumbing its nose at the Trump Administration with its clumsy scheme to get around its promises. These Italian routes, already highly competitive and well-served by existing carriers, are simply not economically viable without Qatari subsidies. By flooding these markets with subsidized capacity and dropping prices far below cost, Qatar is launching another assault on U.S. airline employees and travelers, and disrespecting the Administration.

We shouldn’t be surprised, given that if it played by the same rules as everyone else, Qatar Airways simply wouldn’t exist. It’s remarkable that in an era when global aviation is thriving, Qatar must keep its state-owned airline aloft with a massive infusion of subsidy dollars. The airline lost $1.3 billion in its most recent fiscal year, flew fewer passengers, and has said it may ask its government for another capital injection.

Thankfully, these concerns have gotten the attention of Congress. More than a dozen U.S. senators recently sent letters to the administration raising their concerns about the Air Italy-Qatar connection and its impact on U.S. jobs.

As the CEO of Delta, my No. 1 job is taking care of our 80,000 employees, who are the best in the business and work hard every day to ensure all of our flights are safe and reliable. On their behalf, I join those Senators in asking the Trump Administration to examine this situation and send a strong message to the Qatari government that these actions simply won’t be tolerated.

We should demand an answer to the Deutsche Bank question: Who is funding Air Italy’s losses?

Originally Published on Delta

americans4fairskies2015Ed Bastian op-ed: Air Italy’s mysterious benefactor
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U.S. Airlines Complained About Air Italy’s New Routes Into America; It Responded By Adding Even More

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A transatlantic war of words has broken out between a small Italian airline and the giants of U.S. aviation

Air Italy – a minnow in the global aviation industry with a fleet of just 16 aircraft – announced in early December that it was preparing to launch new services to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Milan Malpensa airport, starting in April next year.

It marked a doubling of the carrier’s route network into the U.S., adding to its services to New York and Miami it had launched earlier in the year.

Airlines launch new routes all the time without any fuss. But not this time. A group called the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition that includes American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, issue a strongly-worded statement calling for the U.S. government to step in.

“We expect the Trump administration will take strong action and stand up for American workers in response to these violations,” the group said.

An Air Italy Boeing 737 Max plane at Milan Malpensa airport, Italy on May 14, 2018. (Photo: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)GETTY

Its issue isn’t with the idea of an Italian carrier launching flights to U.S. cities though; it is with Air Italy’s second biggest shareholder.

Partnership for Open & Fair Skies was set up to campaign against what it says is unfair competition from the three big Middle East airlines: Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. The last of these owns 49% of Air Italy.

According to the lobby group, the Italian airline’s new services amount to a violation of the commitments made by Qatar in January 2018 that Qatar Airways would not launch any more so-called “fifth freedom” flights to the U.S. (in other words, flights between two foreign countries).

“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,” said Scott Reed, campaign manager for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies. “Qatar has demonstrated a stunning lack of respect for President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo.”

Some U.S. politicians have added their voice to the criticism, with a group of senators calling for an investigation into Qatar Airways.

If all that was meant to cower Air Italy, it has not worked. On December 18, Air Italy said it was going to launch a non-stop service from Milan to Chicago O’Hare International airport from mid-May. Chief operating officer Rossen Dimitrov said the new route “reflects the importance of the North American market to us.”

Dimitrov has also denied that his airline was being unfairly aided by Qatar. “We are registered in Italy and not subsidized by Qatar Airways, who are minority stakeholders,” he said at a recent event in Delhi to launch new services to India. “They do not manage us.”

The U.S. might struggle to find any reasonable grounds to stop these flights. In January, Qatar and the U.S. held discussions over civil aviation links and reached a set of understandings to address the concerns that U.S. carriers said they had about unfair competition. According to that political agreement, Qatar Airways committed to issuing audited financial statements and, within two years, to start disclosing any significant transactions with state-owned enterprises and “take steps to ensure that such transactions are based on commercial terms.”

On the issue of additional flights, the wording of the agreement was particularly vague. Qatar merely made an assurance that it had “no current plans” for Qatar Airways to operate fifth freedom flights to the U.S. At the time, both sides were able to claim victory. Now, however, the weakness of the pledges is becoming all too apparent to the U.S. airlines.

A follow-up meeting between U.S. and Qatari officials was penciled in for early 2019, although it is unclear at this stage if that will go ahead.

Air Italy will have gained some useful publicity from the episode, which will do it no harm at all as it pushes ahead with a significant overhaul of its operations. In March 2018 it changed its name from Meridiana as part of its revamp. Since then it has added new domestic and international routes, including long-haul services to Bangkok, Delhi and Mumbai, as well as the U.S. destinations.

The airline has a small fleet of ten Boeing 737s, one Boeing 767 and five Airbus A330s, but is aiming to operate 50 aircraft by 2022. The new long-haul routes are being served by the A330. The fleet expansion program is being aided by Qatar Airways, which has given Air Italy the five A330 jets from its own fleet.

Qatar Airways’ investment in the Italian airline also plays into its fierce rivalry with the two UAE carriers. Emirates already operates a fifth freedom service between Milan and New York with one of its own planes. Etihad had previously invested heavily in Alitalia, the national carrier of Italy, although it could not prevent it slipping into administration in May 2017

Originally Published on Forbes


americans4fairskies2015U.S. Airlines Complained About Air Italy’s New Routes Into America; It Responded By Adding Even More
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U.S. Airlines Complained About Air Italy’s New Routes Into America; It Responded By Adding Even More

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A transatlantic war of words has broken out between a small Italian airline and the giants of U.S. aviation

Air Italy – a minnow in the global aviation industry with a fleet of just 16 aircraft – announced in early December that it was preparing to launch new services to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Milan Malpensa airport, starting in April next year.

It marked a doubling of the carrier’s route network into the U.S., adding to its services to New York and Miami it had launched earlier in the year.

Airlines launch new routes all the time without any fuss. But not this time. A group called the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition that includes American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, issue a strongly-worded statement calling for the U.S. government to step in.

“We expect the Trump administration will take strong action and stand up for American workers in response to these violations,” the group said.

Its issue isn’t with the idea of an Italian carrier launching flights to U.S. cities though; it is with Air Italy’s second biggest shareholder.

Partnership for Open & Fair Skies was set up to campaign against what it says is unfair competition from the three big Middle East airlines: Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. The last of these owns 49% of Air Italy.

According to the lobby group, the Italian airline’s new services amount to a violation of the commitments made by Qatar in January 2018 that Qatar Airways would not launch any more so-called “fifth freedom” flights to the U.S. (in other words, flights between two foreign countries).

“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,” said Scott Reed, campaign manager for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies. “Qatar has demonstrated a stunning lack of respect for President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo.”

Some U.S. politicians have added their voice to the criticism, with a group of senators calling for an investigation into Qatar Airways.

If all that was meant to cower Air Italy, it has not worked. On December 18, Air Italy said it was going to launch a non-stop service from Milan to Chicago O’Hare International airport from mid-May. Chief operating officer Rossen Dimitrov said the new route “reflects the importance of the North American market to us.”

Dimitrov has also denied that his airline was being unfairly aided by Qatar. “We are registered in Italy and not subsidized by Qatar Airways, who are minority stakeholders,” he said at a recent event in Delhi to launch new services to India. “They do not manage us.”

The U.S. might struggle to find any reasonable grounds to stop these flights. In January, Qatar and the U.S. held discussions over civil aviation links and reached a set of understandings to address the concerns that U.S. carriers said they had about unfair competition. According to that political agreement, Qatar Airways committed to issuing audited financial statements and, within two years, to start disclosing any significant transactions with state-owned enterprises and “take steps to ensure that such transactions are based on commercial terms.”

On the issue of additional flights, the wording of the agreement was particularly vague. Qatar merely made an assurance that it had “no current plans” for Qatar Airways to operate fifth freedom flights to the U.S. At the time, both sides were able to claim victory. Now, however, the weakness of the pledges is becoming all too apparent to the U.S. airlines.

A follow-up meeting between U.S. and Qatari officials was penciled in for early 2019, although it is unclear at this stage if that will go ahead.

Air Italy will have gained some useful publicity from the episode, which will do it no harm at all as it pushes ahead with a significant overhaul of its operations. In March 2018 it changed its name from Meridiana as part of its revamp. Since then it has added new domestic and international routes, including long-haul services to Bangkok, Delhi and Mumbai, as well as the U.S. destinations.

The airline has a small fleet of ten Boeing 737s, one Boeing 767 and five Airbus A330s, but is aiming to operate 50 aircraft by 2022. The new long-haul routes are being served by the A330. The fleet expansion program is being aided by Qatar Airways, which has given Air Italy the five A330 jets from its own fleet.

Qatar Airways’ investment in the Italian airline also plays into its fierce rivalry with the two UAE carriers. Emirates already operates a fifth freedom service between Milan and New York with one of its own planes. Etihad had previously invested heavily in Alitalia, the national carrier of Italy, although it could not prevent it slipping into administration in May 2017.

Originally Published on Forbes.

americans4fairskies2015U.S. Airlines Complained About Air Italy’s New Routes Into America; It Responded By Adding Even More
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U.S. airlines bristle at expansion of Qatar-backed Italian airline

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An Italian airline is now caught in the middle of a simmering dispute over government subsidies between the largest U.S. airlines and state-owned Qatar Airways.

Qatar Airways owns a 49 percent stake in Air Italy, which is planning to serve Los Angeles and San Francisco next year from Milan. Delta Air LinesAmerican Airlines and United Airlines say the Doha-based airline is using the carrier to offer flights to Europe, violating an agreement the Qatar government reached with the Trump administration last year.

In January, Qatar Airways agreed to open its books and said it did not have plans to launch flights between the U.S. and destinations other than its home country, according to the Trump administration. Similar agreements were struck in May with United Arab Emirates carriers Abu Dhabi-based Etihad and Dubai-based Emirates. (Emirates currently flies from the New York area to Milan and Athens, an example of the so-called “fifth freedom” flights.)

The four-year-old international feud is over allegations from U.S. carriers Delta Air LinesAmerican Airlines and United Airlines that several of their Persian Gulf rivals, known for their plush upper-class cabins, have received since 2004 more than $50 billion in subsidies from their home countries that create an unfair playing field for their U.S. competitors.

“With regards to the Italian version of Qatar, we are strongly opposed, and we together — Delta, American and United — are very closely aligned on this issue,” United’s CEO Oscar Munoz said on a call with reporters last week. The expansion is an “an-in-your-face to our administration on agreements that have been reached.”

Some U.S. lawmakers are asking the Trump administration to step in. Eleven Republican senators, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, earlier this month sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressing concern about Air Italy’s expansion.

“Air Italy’s entry into this crowded market appears consistent with Qatar Airways pattern of adding subsidized capacity in markets where demand is already well-served,” said the letter.

Qatar Airways and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When asked about the dispute, Air Italy emphasized that Qatar Airways owns a minority stake in the airline, but did not respond to the allegations directly.

Originally Published on CNBC

americans4fairskies2015U.S. airlines bristle at expansion of Qatar-backed Italian airline
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The 11 US senators against Air Italy: used by Qatar to violate the agreements

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[Translated from Italian to English]

Request to Washington to investigate the expansion of the carrier to 49% of Qatar Airways. From Doha they reject the accusations: we do not use Air Italy to fly to the USA

Air Italy is a Trojan horse from Qatar Airways in the American market. Eleven US senators – all Republicans – ask the White House to investigate the airline partner born from the sundial Meridiana with 49% in the hands of the Doha carrier. In a letter sent last December 3 to Mike Pompeo (US Department of State), Elaine Chao (Transport) and Wilbur Ross (Commerce), the senators headed by Ted Cruz invite the Trump administration to shed light on the operations of Air Italy.

The agreements

Operations that, according to the representatives, seem to violate the agreement between the United States and Qatar at the beginning of this year and which establish among other things the renunciation by Qatar Airways not to have flights in fifth freedom, therefore to recur only to direct connections and not to those with a stopover in Europe, as is the case for Emirates with the Dubai-Milan-New York and Dubai-Athens-New York routes. For the eleven American senators, Qatar Airways would be circumventing that constraint by financing the routes of Air Italy between Malpensa and the US.

The reply

An accusation reminiscent of that of Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines. “There is a Persian Gulf carrier who is using his investment in another company to fly to the US, which is something that needs to be solved,” Parker said a few weeks ago. Accusation that is rejected by the leaders of the Doha carrier. “On this point I want to be clear: Qatar Airways does not use Air Italy as an alternative way to take passengers from Doha to the US,” said Akbar Al Baker, from the Gulf company, to Corriere in a conversation in May immediately after delivery of the first Boeing 737 Max 8 at Air Italy. «We do not even have codeshare flights with them over Europe and we have not even thought about it.

The accusations

The Republican senators think otherwise. The Milan-New York flight of Air Italy is boiling as “questionable from the commercial point of view, considering that there are already five companies (United, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Alitalia, Emirates)”. The reason why the eleven believe that “entry into an already crowded market” is in line with the Qatar Airways strategy “to add flight seats with state aid to markets where demand is already well served”, write in the letter.

The routes

As a pet “that offered domestic flights and some international seasonal connections”, Meridiana then became Air Italy according to the American representatives went with launching regular flights to the USA. Markets in which Air Italy, they continue, “would have had no access without Qatar Airways money, as it would not have been possible for Qatar Airways without the direct support of the Qatari government”. So the request for investigation and verification of the respect of the treaties of January 2018 between Doha and Washington. Request that started two days before the announcement by Air Italy of two new direct routes , in April 2019, from Milan to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Originally Published on Corriere della Sera.

americans4fairskies2015The 11 US senators against Air Italy: used by Qatar to violate the agreements
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Is Air Italy a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing? Lobby Group Says Qatar Airways is “Disrespecting” U.S. President

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Back in February, the State of Qatar announced that it had reached an important agreement with U.S. authorities over a long-running dispute involving its government-owned national airline, Qatar Airways.  A little over two weeks later and a little known Italian airline going by the name of Meridiana Fly revealed a big strategic change just months after Qatar Airways had taken a 49% stake in the carrier.

Initially, the Qatari investment wasn’t entirely surprising – Qatar Airways has taken stakes in a number of airlines, including the owner of British Airways and Iberia as well as South America’s LATAM Group and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific.  More recently, Qatar Airways even attempted to buy a stake in American Airlines although decided not to pursue that idea after its advances were rebuffed by the airline.

But it soon became clear that Qatar wasn’t merely making a passive investment in Air Italy’s parent company AQA Holding.  Along with a complete rebranding (the first thing to change was the Sardinian airline’s name as it rebranded to Air Italy) came a complete change in strategy as it transformed from being a mainly regional carrier – moving its operating base from Olbia to the industrial Italian heartland of Milan.

Air Italy’s fleet would be bolstered by the addition of five Airbus A330-200 long-haul aircraft – all of which would be borrowed from Qatar Airways.  The fleet would also gain the latest generation Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft – again, belonging to Qatar Airways but delivered new to Air Italy.  With the addition of new aircraft, Air Italy would also expand its route network – to Bangkok in the East and to New York City and Miami in the United States.

By 2022, the airline wants to have grown its fleet by as many as 50 aircraft and has plans to start taking delivery of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s next year.

So far, the two events that occurred earlier this year seem fairly unrelated.  Now, however, some lawmakers in the United States say Qatar’s investment in Air Italy, as well as its major shift in business strategy, is an attempt by Qatar to subvert the agreement it reached with the U.S.

For the past few years, the three biggest airlines in the United States – American, Delta and United Airlines – have been locked in a bitter dispute with the so-called Middle East Three or ME3.  These are the three largest airlines in the Middle East and comprise Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

These three airlines have been accused of receiving billions of dollars in illegal State-funded subsidies and in turn capacity dumping with loss-making fares in an effort to force other airlines out of the market.  The U.S. carriers were unhappy with the rapid expansion of Persian Gulf airlines into the United States and wanted the government to take action.  A lobby group called the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies that they funded claimed failure to act would result in the loss of thousands of American jobs.

The deal that the State Department struck with Qatar didn’t go nearly as far as the U.S. carriers had initially demanded – they basically wanted the Open Skies agreement which allows airlines like Qatar Airways to fly freely to and from the United States to be rewritten and effectively limit the number of flights the airline could operate – a little like rules imposed by the Canadian and Australian governments.

Instead, the final deal involved Qatar Airways agreeing to release fully audited financial results and within two-years publicly disclosing any significant new transactions with other state-owned enterprises.  A side note of the deal, which was seized on by U.S. carriers was a statement from Qatar Airways saying that, at present, it had no plans to open any so-called fifth freedom routes to the U.S.

The agreement seemed to draw a line under the dispute – the U.S. carriers, including Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, claimed victory while business seemingly carried on as normal for Qatar Airways.  At the same time, lobbying from the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies stopped almost overnight – in fact, when we contacted the group earlier this year requesting comment about Qatar’s financial results, a spokesperson refused to be drawn on the matter.

Now, though, the bitter dispute has suddenly resurfaced and it’s been brought about by yet another route expansion by Air Italy into the United States – this time to Los Angeles and San Francisco.  While some see the new routes as a boon for passengers that offer direct flights on currently underserved routes, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies has a very different opinion.

“With the announcement 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,” claims Scott Reed, who’s a  campaign manager at the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

The full statement from the lobby group continues:

“Qatar Airways has received over $25 billion in documented subsidies from its government owner, in violation of the Open Skies agreement with the U.S.”

“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.”

“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. What is now clear is that Qatar Airways has no intention of playing by the rules and of working cooperatively with the American government. We expect the Trump administration will take strong action and stand up for American workers in response to these violations.”

Interestingly, Air Italy has has just inaugurated a new service to Delhi and will soon begin flying direct to Mumbai.  The flights will allow the Indian diaspora to travel seamlessly from these two cities to the United States via Milan.  Three of Air Italy’s four U.S. destinations are in the Top Five cities of U.S. metropolitan areas with large Asian Indian populations.

The new connectivity afforded by Air Italy’s route network is likely to have infuriated Delta who only recently announced plans to restart services between the United States and Mumbai – a market it said had long been “impacted by government-subsidized Middle Eastern airlines.”

Meanwhile, one of Qatar Airway’s largest passenger markets has always been India – especially in connecting Indian citizens between their mother country and the West through its Doha hub.  It’s entirely possible to think that Qatar Airways could be using Air Italy as a proxy for its own expansion plans.

Who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong pretty much depends which side of the fence you sit on.  There are strong arguments and opinions on both sides and while Air Italy’s expansion is definitely a good thing for passengers, it’s not hard to understand why U.S.-based carriers are aggrieved.


What side of the fence are you on?

Originally Published on Paddle Your Own Kanoo.

americans4fairskies2015Is Air Italy a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing? Lobby Group Says Qatar Airways is “Disrespecting” U.S. President
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Planned Milan To LAX And SFO Flights Mean Qatar Airways Violates Deal, U.S. Airlines Say

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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.

americans4fairskies2015Planned Milan To LAX And SFO Flights Mean Qatar Airways Violates Deal, U.S. Airlines Say
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