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Coalition of US businesses defend Gulf airlines in subsidies dispute

28 businesses say 'Open Skies' agreements have led to '15 million' US jobs
Qatar Airways earlier this month abandoned plans to acquire 10 percent ownership in American Airlines (Reuters)

A coalition of transportation and tourism businesses on Monday called on the US government to preserve aviation agreements with Gulf nations despite accusations of unfair trade by major US airlines.

In a letter to Congress, 28 businesses including courier service FedEx, budget air carrier JetBlue and hotel giant Wyndham, oppose calls from Delta, American Airlines and United to renegotiate “Open Skies” agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“Open Skies agreements deliver substantial benefits for the US economy. All in all Open Skies agreements support more than 15 million US tourism and hospitality jobs,” the letter read.

“Unfortunately, these jobs are potentially jeopardised by demands from three US passenger airlines to restrict access to the US market for two Open Skies partners, in breach of our obligations.”

The letter also was addressed to the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, among other officials.

"We urge the administration to protect Open Skies by insisting that these claims be assessed on the merits and in the proper forum," the letter said.

The three biggest US air carriers say Abu Dhabi and Doha have pumped billions of dollars in unfair subsidies into their national airlines Etihad and Qatar Airways, and they are lobbying the Trump administration to step in.

In response to Monday's letter, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a group linking the three US airlines as well as trade unions for pilots and flight attendants, accused the pro-Gulf coalition of risking US jobs to defend subsidised foreign air carriers.

"The truth is that Open Skies agreements already provide a way to deal with rule breakers and anything else is just an attempt to delay and derail American jobs," Jill Zuckman, the group's spokesperson, said in a statement.

"We agree with President Trump that trade deals need to be fair, enforced and for the benefit of the American worker."

Qatar Airways earlier this month abandoned plans to acquire a 10 percent stake in American Airlines. The US carrier had ended code-sharing agreements with Etihad and Qatar in July, citing the state subsidies.

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