Few industries have faced the challenges that aviation has worked through in the 21st century. From security concerns after September 11 and the “lost decade” of air travel that followed, to the Great Recession, many said the U.S. aviation industry would not survive. Since that time, we have done more than survive; our industry has rebounded.
As a pilot who flew during these ups and downs, I know that it is the steadfast determination and the meticulous focus of my fellow aviation workers that has brought us to the place we are today, serving more destinations than ever before. But those of us who know the industry best realize how vigilant we must be to threats that will set us back.
Today, I am convinced that there is no greater threat to the future of our industry than the destabilizing force of the massively subsidized Gulf carriers that are systematically attempting to take over global passenger aviation. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar are using their countries’ vast wealth to violate our aviation trade agreements and put American jobs at risk.
Since 2004, the UAE and Qatar have pumped more than $50 billion in subsidies to their state-owned carriers: Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. With a steady stream of cash from government coffers, the Gulf carriers have aggressively entered new markets around the world, where they can expand without any regard to cost or profitability. They have decimated their rule-abiding competition in Europe, Asia and Australia, who found themselves on an unlevel playing field facing a trio of competitors with unlimited government financial backing at odds with the rules of capitalism.
Their sights are now set squarely on the U.S.
What has happened to other carriers doesn’t have to happen to us. The global aviation system we know today was built through international trade deals known as Open Skies agreements, and the UAE and Qatar are blatantly violating these agreements with their ongoing subsidies. The United States has 121 bilateral Open Skies agreements with countries around the world – from Jamaica to Japan. Just two of these agreements are being violated. If our government takes on these trade cheaters and enforces these two agreements, we can protect 1.2 million American jobs threatened by Gulf carrier trade cheating. Customers will benefit from increased competition and choice by airlines that compete on a level playing field. It would be a win-win for everyone involved.
Enforcing our Open Skies agreement will also be a win for national security. Many U.S. airline pilots, myself included, fly for our airlines as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program. Through the CRAF program, we transport members of the military around the world as they report for duty in times of crisis or come home to the USA. It is a tremendous honor to serve our men and women in uniform, but a key reason why our airlines can fly these long-distance routes is because of the wide-body aircraft in our fleet used mostly for international service.
The UAE and Qatar have ordered nearly 550 wide-body aircraft, more than the United States and China combined. They are using these wide-body aircraft and their massive subsidies to push US carriers off of international long-haul routes. Eventually, we risk losing more and more long-haul routes and shrinking our wide-body fleets, making US carriers less prepared to serve our military down the road.
The Gulf carriers know that we will not go down without a fight. They have funded a smear campaign against the U.S. airlines and their workers to whip up confusion and paint us as enemies of competition and Open Skies agreements. The truth is that we strongly support Open Skies agreements and believe we should follow them without exception – especially the “fair and equal opportunity to compete” provision that’s at the heart of Open Skies.
Standing in the Oval Office, President Trump said his administration will “create a level playing field for the American worker, finally,” and pledged to stand up to trade-cheating countries everywhere. That message resonates with the men and women of the U.S. aviation industry. As President Trump works to once again put the American worker first, taking action against the Gulf carriers’ rule-breaking subsidies would be a promising step.
Captain Daniel F. Carey is President of the Allied Pilots Association.