This week, the U.S. Travel Association will bring industry professionals to Washington, D.C., for their annual meeting. But they won’t be speaking for the whole travel industry because, frankly, they’re missing some key players. U.S. Travel doesn’t represent a single major U.S. airline, yet they have waded deeply into a debate about the future of the U.S. airline industry and its ability to compete fairly. It’s a debate about government-subsidized foreign airlines and the threat they pose to our economy and millions of American jobs. And, despite its name, “U.S. Travel” is taking sides on behalf of foreign interests.
Major U.S. airlines and their employees have joined their European counterparts in calling for the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to stop pouring billions of dollars in subsidies into their state-owned carriers: Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. This massive subsidization is a violation of our trade agreements with these countries and has roiled the global aviation industry, pushing other airlines off existing routes and taking existing passengers away from rule-abiding competitors in Europe, Australia, Asia and now the United States, and costing good U.S. jobs.
The U.S. airline industry is concerned for good reason. But strangely, U.S. Travel is not.
Peeling back this onion is easy. When you look at U.S. Travel’s funders, at the highest sponsorship level, the Chairman’s Circle, there are two airlines listed – Emirates and Etihad. The only U.S. airline the group represents is one small U.S. regional carrier called ViaAir. It seems U.S. Travel is willing to use its American branding to represent foreign-owned airlines, whose interests are completely at odds with the majority of the U.S. airline industry that operates most of the flights in and out of the U.S. Therefore, we shouldn’t listen to them when they say are they advocating for what’s best for America’s aviation industry. The United States’ interest here is in keeping a healthy aviation market that supports millions of jobs and provides national and international service connecting America’s small and mid-sized communities with the world.
As a professional pilot for 27 years and a representative of 55,000 airline pilots in the U.S. and Canada, I recognize the full value of America’s aviation network and the jobs that come with it. The three U.S. global carriers—along with their regional partners—support hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and provide billions in U.S. wages.
U.S. Travel also likes to claim that their members’ orders of Boeing aircraft somehow outweigh the economic benefits of a stable U.S. airline industry. Economists have debunked this argument, but it can be rebutted simply – to buy planes, airlines need routes that aren’t being undermined. American jobs making planes depend on America’s airlines having a fair opportunity to compete if they’re going to purchase aircraft.
More important, ordering U.S. planes should not serve as an excuse for any country to violate its trade agreements with the United States.
We know the value of Open Skies agreements and we respect their principal goal: the reduction of government interference in the market. When these deals are working the way they should, airlines focus on what they do best – flying their customers around the world.
President Trump was right to say that America’s trade deals need to work for American workers. Enforcement of America’s trade deals matters to all Americans, including those who fly, service, and make the planes, those who work in and around airports, and those who travel as a passengers. We should be concerned when a U.S. industry isn’t able to compete on a fair footing, and even more concerned when agents representing foreign interests claim to speak for the American aviation industry.
Capt. Tim Canoll is the tenth president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), which represents more than 55,000 professional airline pilots who fly for 32 airlines in the United States and Canada, and is the largest nongovernmental aviation safety organization in the world.