Opinion

Enforce Trade Agreements For U.S. Aviation Workers

President Trumpview on trade agreements is quite clear: They should be fair and beneficial for our country, they should be enforced, and they should create jobs for hard working Americans. 

For the U.S. aviation industry, which supports 11 million jobs nationwide, this view is more than welcome. Every single person who helps keep our planes flying and passengers and cargo moving, from flight attendants to ground crew to my fellow pilots, appreciates the importance of the international agreements that let us fly Americans to other countries and bring visitors to our own. But as our president knows all too well, sometimes agreements give us a raw deal. And sometimes other countries violate these agreements and take advantage of American industries, to the detriment of our workers and economy. 

Such is the case with America’s Open Skies agreements with two Gulf countries, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Open Skies agreements are the foundation of the international aviation industry, allowing fair-playing companies to launch international flights without having to work through piles of government red tape. And for almost all of America’s 120 Open Skies agreements, the deals are working as they should. But the UAE and Qatar are undermining the “fair and equal opportunity to compete” requirements of the agreements by fueling their state-owned airlines––Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways––with over $50 billion in subsidies. 

Not only do these massive subsidies directly violate the UAE and Qatar Open Skies agreements but they are part of a scheme that directly threatens American businesses and workers. Thanks to the oil-rich treasuries of their government owners, the Gulf carriers are able to ignore the economic realities that true, profit-minded businesses must face, and instead focus all their effort on dominating the global aviation market, regardless of cost.  

Rather than creating new demand, the Gulf carriers are leeching off of their fair-playing competitors. Data show that following the most recent entry by a Gulf carrier into a U.S. market, passenger bookings for international itineraries on U.S. carriers and their joint-venture partners have declined by as much as 20 percent, based on an analysis of seven major cities. And every time this unfair competition forces a U.S. carrier to cancel a route, hundreds of American jobs are lost. 

The Gulf carriers clearly know that Trump’s presidency means time is running out for their rule-breaking behavior. But remarkably, in the first week of the new administration, Emirates announced a new route running between Athens and Newark. This route––called a fifth freedom flight, since it does not stop in the airline’s home country in between the United States and Greece––is not just an aggressive attempt at more subsidy-fueled expansion, but also a slap in the face of our new president. Not only is it surprising that a Gulf carrier would take such a bold action against the priorities of President Trump, but it is offensive to the millions of Americans who voted for a promise of new jobs and fair deals. 

And there’s another way that President Trump can restore fairness in the U.S. industry’s competition with the Gulf carriers. In 1981, Congress passed the Fly America Act to ensure all air travel funded by the U.S. government and American taxpayers would take place on U.S. air carriers and flights operated by American workers. Outrageously, under the Obama administration, the General Services Administration (GSA) twice violated this act of Congress by granting contracts for federal employees traveling from Washington Dulles to Dubai and New York City to Milan to Emirates. We are hopeful that the GSA under the Trump administration will show more respect for American workers and the rule of law by reversing these decisions. 

Tens of thousands of my fellow pilots have joined with the major U.S. airlines and seven unions to call for an end to Gulf carrier subsidies and a voluntary freeze on new Gulf carrier flights to the United States until the playing field is level for our businesses that follow the rules. Unfortunately, the Obama administration failed to find a solution that would protect American workers from being taken advantage of. President Trump’s inauguration speech shows he is a leader who will not make the same mistake. 

Captain Tim Canoll is the tenth president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents more than 54,000 professional airline pilots.