Gulf carrier cheaters threaten US aviation jobs

Early in my career, I had the honor of working for former President Ronald Reagan, a man who embodied our nation‘s values and who knew how to stand up to foreign governments. President Reagan would have been shocked to see that today an important sector of our nation‘s economy is under attack by foreign governments. And so far, our country has not pushed back.

The U.S. aviation industry is facing a significant threat from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar that could mean the end of our industry as we know it. And that means the livelihoods of 1.2 million Americans who count on a strong aviation industry are at-risk.

The three state-owned Gulf carriers – Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways – have received over $50 billion in subsidies from their governments in the last decade, skewing the free market and putting American jobs at risk. These subsidies are breaking the rules established by our international trade agreements with the UAE and Qatar, which were intended ensure fair competition and eliminate government interference.

While the U.S. continues to stand on the sidelines, countries around the world have taken action against the harmful effects that heavily subsidized Gulf carrier expansion has in their markets. The European Union recently announced an expanded set of rules to guarantee that foreign airlines are abiding by fair competitive practices on their routes to Europe. Japan, China, and Germany are among the countries that limit the number of cities that Gulf carriers can fly to within their borders. Canada has implemented some of the strongest policies to ensure fair competition, which has already shown positive results for its domestic airline. Because they now compete with the Gulf carriers on a more level playing field, Air Canada has been able to increase its flights to India and the Gulf countries.

The U.S. government has the responsibility to ensure our agreements are enforced and our trading partners are following the rules. If we don’t stand up to trade cheaters, the United States will be sending a signal to the world that any foreign government can violate their trade agreements with us. President Reagan would not have stood for this.

I am hopeful that President Trump will follow through on his word that he will “create a level playing field for the American worker” and “take necessary and lawful action to end those many (trade) abuses.”

The Gulf carriers’ subsidies make it much harder for U.S. carriers to compete. The result of their illegal actions has been the cancelation of routes causing irreversible damage. When Delta and other U.S. carriers are forced to cancel a single round-trip international route due to unfair competition practices by the Gulf airlines, we lose an estimated 1,500 American jobs.

The employees that bear the brunt of this are not nameless, faceless people: They are pilots, flight attendants, customer service agents, members of the ground crew and others. I have been in the airline industry for over two decades and have met countless dedicated employees who want to provide top-notch service to our customers and see our business succeed. On top of that, they work these jobs to put a roof over their heads, food on the table and send their kids to college. It is infuriating that so many hardworking Americans are at risk of losing their jobs because foreign governments are blatantly violating their agreements with the U.S.

The Gulf carrier scheme to dominate global aviation also hurts the ability of consumers to access the destinations they want to fly to. The U.S. aviation system relies on a hub-and-spoke system where passengers from small communities fly through hub cities to take international flights. When international routes are lost to foreign carriers operating unfairly, domestic carriers may be forced to cut flights to small and medium-sized communities.

This is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue. Republicans and Democrats can agree that putting American jobs first and not letting foreign governments push our country around is something everyone can support. When the UAE and Qatar signed their Open Skies treaties with the U.S., they agreed to compete fairly and operate on a level playing field.

We welcome fair competition, but we don‘t welcome trade cheating. The U.S. government must hold these nations to their word and enforce our mutually-agreed upon treaties. American jobs and the future of the U.S. aviation industry depend on it.

Andrea Newman is the senior vice president of government affairs for Delta Air Lines. She served as Special Counsel to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Logistics and Deputy Assistant to the Vice President of the United States under President Ronald Reagan.

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