Dubai: Hungary is to offer Emirates fifth freedom rights in a move that is likely to irk some of Europe’s largest carriers lamenting the expansion of the fast-growing Gulf airlines.
Hungary’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said on Wednesday his country has agreed to offer fifth freedom rights to Emirates after an approach by the government of the United Arab Emirates.
“Negotiations... will be starting soon,” he said at a press conference in Dubai following the first Hungary-UAE joint economic committee meeting.
Hungary has been without a national airline since 2012 when Malev declared bankruptcy, though Budapest is the headquarters of European low-cost carrier Wizz Air, whose network has included Dubai since 2013.
Szijjártó said he hopes Emirates, the Middle East’s largest carrier and that already flies daily to Budapest, will transform the central European country into a regional hub for air traffic.
Emirates declined to comment with an airline spokesperson telling Gulf News it “does not comment on governmental negotiations.”
“We have no immediate plans to operate direct services between Budapest and any destination besides our Dubai hub,” the spokesperson said by email.
Szijjártó said he was due to meet with Emirates later on Wednesday.
Part of Emirates’ network has been built up with fifth freedom rights, which allows the airline fly between foreign countries as long as the flight starts or ends in its own country.
But the strategy has frustrated some of its largest competitors in Europe and the United States, notably Emirates’ daily Milan to New York route, which the Gulf carrier could replicate from Hungary.
“The Eastern European-US market is a significant one, so it’s conceivable that Emirates could tap into the traffic rights. Should they do so it would certainly fuel the fire in the debate,” John Strickland, aviation expert and director of UK-based JLS Consulting, told Gulf News by email.
Szijjártó said opposition from the European Union is unlikely. The EU executive is seeking a mandate from member states to renegotiate bilateral agreements with several states including the UAE.
Qatar Airways, one of the three largest Middle East carriers, at present uses fifth freedom rights to fly Doha–Budapest–Zagreb.
Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy and chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority, told reporters the fifth freedom agreement will be reciprocal and will be extended to the UAE’s other carriers, including Etihad Airways.