U.S. airports and the communities they serve are in danger. Right this minute Gulf carriers - Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates - backed by billions in interest-free loans and equity infusions from the Qatar and United Arab Emirates governments are attempting to choke the U.S. airline industry out of business. Over $42 billion has been infused into the Gulf carriers in the past decade. This is a direct violation of the Open Skies agreements that are intended to keep the global market competitive.
Without a level playing field for U.S. airlines to compete in the global market, our domestic service is in jeopardy. Hundreds of thousands of flights arrive and depart at the great hubs of the American skyways each year. But, while airports like O'Hare, Atlanta, and LAX routinely make the news for the sheer volume of passengers checking in and taking off, they are just one part of our air travel system.
People living in smaller cities, like Baton Rouge, Austin and Dayton, also need to be connected by aviation for business, transport of goods and the ability to visit family and friends. Flight Attendants working flights to and from these communities know the crucial role they play in joining millions of people to our vast network of routes.
If the U.S. government does nothing about the Gulf states' Open Skies violations, service at all major hub airports will be at risk, and small cities may lose their flights and their connections to other communities.
The illegal subsidies mean Gulf carriers aren't beholden to market forces. They can fly not even half-full, oversized planes on major international routes. After ten years of bankruptcies at U.S. airlines, lost pensions, drastic wage cuts and lost jobs, Flight Attendants and other aviation workers will tell you from experience that no airline can operate for long under those conditions without subsidies. Gulf carriers, propped up by their governments, can tip the scales in their favor and crowd American carriers out. That's not just bad news for consumers looking for international options; it is bad news for our economy and the small or mid-sized cities that make it thrive.
The benefits of those small- and medium-sized city airports don't end at the runway. The critical infrastructure they supply gives businesses reason to locate there and hire local employees. They allow existing businesses to participate in the global economy. If foreign carriers force airlines to downsize, the impact to our cities will be immense. Cutting even just one flight a day will hurt travelers, local jobs, and the local economy.
Travelers will be without options or forced to pay more for their tickets. Cuts to flights mean U.S. pilots, flight attendants and ground service staff will be out of work. Every international route lost to a Gulf Carrier costs us approximately 800 American jobs. Hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions rely on visitors. They too will feel the financial fallout.
America has established more than 100 Open Skies Agreements to ensure a free-market environment for our global industry; competitive and fair. Those agreements ensure better prices, global access for U.S. businesses, consumer options, and competition among the airlines.
But the Gulf carriers, and the massive subsidies that help them prey on U.S. airlines, are neither competitive nor fair as provided in Open Skies policy. Our government must address this conflict. President Obama often cites everyone playing by the same rules as essential for American success. We don't need handouts, just a chance to compete in a fair game.
We call on the U.S. government to open consultations with Qatar and the UAE to resolve the unfair advantages created by these subsidies. Until this issue is addressed, the U.S. government should institute a freeze on further expansion by these state-owned Gulf airlines.
The American people understand fairness; it is a core value of our nation. For the livelihood of our small and mid-sized communities across America - and the airports that serve them - we need to ensure that our skies remain open and fair.
Sara Nelson is international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO
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