'Air wars' between US and Gulf airlines intensify

'Air wars' between US and Gulf airlines intensify
Qatar Airways chief Akbar al-Baker accused US carriers of 'double-standards' during a press conference this week, following their accusation of unfair competition and demand for US government intervention.
3 min read
18 January, 2016
US-based airlines have struggled to cope as Gulf-based carriers fly from success to success [AFP]
The feud between top Middle Eastern airlines and major US carriers escalated this week when Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker fired back at three major US carriers during a press briefing.

American, Delta and United had accused Qatar Airways and UAE carriers Etihad and Emirates of "unfair competition" because the Middle Eastern carriers allegedly received financial backing from their oil-rich state owners, charges the airlines deny.

The US airlines had in 2015 urged Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene claiming Gulf airlines are "in violation" of the "open skies" agreement, an international policy regulating the aviation industry that ensures a fair and equal competition opportunity between carriers.

Baker dismissed the accusations as nonsense.

The US carriers are attacking top Middle Eastern airlines because they cannot compete with the "superior service", he said.

Baker accused the American carriers of double standards in their approach as they did not protest against European governments who have bailed out airlines including Lufthansa and Alitalia.

He also pointed out that the French government is a major shareholder of Air France but the airline has not faced the same accusations.

"Why are we playing these double standards?" he said.

The feud comes amid increasing concerns of US airline executives that Gulf carriers are rapidly edging them out of the international air travel market.

In July 2015 American Airlines chairman Doug Parker warned US carriers will be forced off more international routes if the "subsidised expansion" of Gulf carriers continues, and later warned the US government to restrict Gulf flights.

We don't get bullied by anybody. If American [Airlines] does not want to work fairly with us, we will consult the others and we could form our own mini-alliance if we wanted to - Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker

Qatar Airways executive Baker however pledged to increase competition with rivals by adding 65 new destinations to Qatar's current 155 destinations within the next three years.

These are set to include flights to Atlanta, the biggest hub for Delta airlines.

Baker further added they will not tolerate "bullying" by American carriers and threatened to break off from the Oneworld alliance, in which American Airlines and Qatar Airways are partners.

"We don't get bullied by anybody. If American [Airlines] does not want to work fairly with us, we will consult the others and we could form our own mini-alliance if we wanted to," Baker said last week.

The rivalry is expected to escalate as Gulf carriers continue their expansion programmes.

Commentators have suggested that the ageing-fleet of US airlines coupled with Gulf carriers' focus on newer fleets and provision of quality in-flight services, helps Gulf airlines increase their market share.

Qatar Airways was recognised as one of the world's leading airlines in the Conde Nast Traveller "Readers' Travel Awards" in September.