Monday’s event at the U.S. State Department underscored why our Open Skies agreements are so vital—and why the Big Three’s campaign to scrap them imperils both workers and consumers.
The State Department hosted a day of talks and events Monday marking the 25th anniversary of the first U.S. Open Skies agreement, signed with the Netherlands, and the 10th anniversary of our Open Skies agreement with the European Union. This milestone celebration underscored all of what makes our Open Skies agreements vital to our country—and why the Big Three U.S. airlines’ continued cries to scrap them are seriously misguided.
Over the course of three hours, one unifying theme emerged: Open Skies are model international agreements that have bolstered global economic growth, led to more flights to the U.S. from more countries, and provided more choices and cheaper airfares for flyers.
That view was shared by each and every speaker, from current and former U.S. government officials to representatives from the European Commission and aviation industry executives. With such broad agreement, and after decades of strong bipartisan support for Open Skies policy, it’s hard to believe that anyone would take issue these claims.
Enter the Big Three (American, Delta and United Airlines), who have for years waged an expensive campaign to upend America’s Open Skies agreements, targeting the Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. The Big Three want the U.S. government to freeze all new routes to the U.S. from the Gulf carriers, claiming that they compete unfairly, receive government subsidies in violation of Open Skies, and threaten American jobs.
These claims simply don’t add up.
On unfair competition: the Gulf carriers compete head-to-head with the Big Three on all of two routes. In fact, most Gulf carrier passengers originate from markets underserved by U.S. carriers. Moreover, Gulf carrier traffic to the U.S. is actually good for the Big Three’s bottom line, as 30 percent of Gulf carrier passengers transfer to domestic flights once they arrive in America.
On the claim of unfair government subsidies: around 60 percent of the international airlines in the Big Three’s global alliances have some form of government ownership. Even the Big Three have received bailouts, bankruptcy protection and more from our own government. This is a major reason why government ownership and assistance aren’t factored into U.S. Open Skies agreements, and one of the reasons why these agreements have worked so well—because if they were, almost every country would risk disqualification, including our own.
On the U.S. jobs that the Gulf carriers supposedly threaten: last year, the Gulf Carriers brought over 1.7 million additional visitors to the U.S., who spent nearly $7.8 billion on their trips, supporting 114,000 American jobs. These figures don’t even include the millions of other American jobs in the cargo, airline and aviation manufacturing industries bolstered by increased international travel.
Additionally, as the U.S. Airlines for Open Skies coalition pointed out recently, America’s Open Skies agreements save travelers $4 billion in fares every year.
The Big Three want to throw all that away over…two routes?
Open Skies are what made the U.S. a leader in global aviation. In order to keep that top spot, save hundreds of thousands of American jobs and keep us connected to the world, the Trump administration would do well to ignore anti-competitive attacks and uphold these agreements.