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Rex Tillerson Wades Into Open Skies Fight

Ted Goodman/The Daily Caller News Foundation

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Ted Goodman Reporter

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is taking interest in an ongoing dispute where U.S.-based legacy airlines are accusing two Middle Eastern countries of violating bilateral aviation agreements, better known as Open Skies agreements.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and its unions have long argued that the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Qatar operate with an unfair advantage that violates the spirit of Open Skies by doling out large government subsidies to their state owned airlines, namely, Emirates Air Lines, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

Tillerson met with U.S.-based airlines and industry group executives Tuesday that do not share the same views as the legacy carriers on Open Skies. Allying themselves with the three Middle East carriers, FedEx, JetBlue Airways and Atlas Air Worldwide encouraged Tillerson to maintain the existing Open Skies agreements with the U.A.E and Qatar.

The attendees pushed back against claims by the legacy carriers that actions by the Middle East carriers are costing American jobs, according to multiple sources with intimate knowledge of the meeting.

The group also wanted to highlight the fact that the larger dispute is not simply a matter between the three U.S. legacy carriers and the three Middle East carriers.

“There are simply too many jobs and stakeholders, let alone retaliatory risk, that could be jeopardized by reopening Open Skies,” Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said at the meeting. “We urge the Administration to maintain the agreements that have brought jobs and revenue to America.”

Proponents for the status quo argue that the legacy carriers have a way to address their concerns. They point to the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act (IATFCPA) of 1974, which authorizes the Department of Transportation to take action in response to anti-competitive, discriminatory, predatory or unjustifiable activities by a foreign government or foreign airlines against a U.S. airline.

“For over four decades when U.S. carriers, including American, Delta and United, had concerns about foreign competitive practices, they filed a formal IATFCPA complaint with the Department of Transportation,” an industry insider, who asked to remain anonymous due to close relationships on both sides of the issue, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Why is this any different now?”

The legacy carriers, represented by the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, are adamant in their position that the U.A.E. and Qatar are violating the agreements, asserting that they have widespread support in Congress for intervention.

“We have the broad support of 285 members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers,” Jill Zuckman, spokesperson for the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, told TheDCNF. “The Trump administration stands for ensuring that our trade agreements benefit the American worker, first and foremost.”

The Partnership points to the support it has on Capitol Hill as evidence that its position is gaining momentum in Washington. “We are proud to stand with the 1.2 million Americans whose jobs are on the chopping blocks due to illegal Gulf carrier subsidies,” Zuckman said.

Tillerson will also meet with executives from American, Delta and United, sources close to the airlines confirmed to TheDCNF.

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