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Subsidy row could overshadow global airline meet

The war of words has so far predominantly played out in a tit-for-tat of comments in the media

Gulf News

Miami: Allegations that Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways receive billions of dollars in state subsidies could overshadow the 71st International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meet (AGM) in Miami this week.

IATA hosts an AGM each year where executives from its 250 airline membership gather to discuss issues critical to the industry. Last year, in Doha, the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was profoundly discussed.

This week, the heads of the Gulf’s three major airlines will sit in the same room as their American and European counterparts who are behind the subsidy claims; Delta, United, American and Air-France KLM and Lufthansa.

John Strickland, Director of London based aviation firm JLS Consulting, said by email he “anticipates” that there would be a “free, frank” discussions of the allegations.

“It’s an issue of the utmost importance that would benefit from a frank exchange possibly under the neutral stewardship of IATA,” he said.

The US and European carriers leading the allegations want their governments to freeze additional landing rights to the Gulf carriers until their claims are investigated. This led to the Dutch government last month freezing additional landing rights to Gulf airlines until a decision is made by the European Union on the allegations. The Gulf carriers deny that they are subsidised.

The war of words has so far predominantly played out in a tit-for-tat of comments in the media. However, Tim Clark, President of Emirates and Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive of Qatar Airways have both said they have met with US officials over the allegations. Etihad Airways President and Chief Executive, James Hogan, wrote a letter last week to the US’ top diplomat, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, and other US cabinet officials requesting him to end the allegations against his airline by the US airlines.

Addison Schonland, Founder and Partner at AirInsight, said by email that the subsidy allegations will “definitely come up.”

The US carriers claim that over $40 billion in subsidies allegedly handed out to the Gulf carriers in past decade allow them to “steal” US passengers. The Gulf airlines have countered by arguing they offer a superior service and fly to many countries and destinations that the US airlines do not serve.

Safety is also “certainly” to come up “in the light of a number of recent tragic accidents,” Strickland said. Earlier this year, a Germanwings pilot intentional crashed a plane full of passengers in France.

Schonland said hacking and cyber security is “another issue that should come up.” An American cyber security professional recently claimed in a tweet he has hacked into the in-flight entertainment systems on a number of flights and been able to alter the aircraft’s movements.

The two-day AGM starts on Monday.

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