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Corporate executives urge US Secretary of State to keep aviation pacts with Gulf nations

Supporters of Middle Eastern airlines claim that major United States carriers cannot prove that new flight routes come at the cost of American jobs. This, they declared during a half-hour meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Opening talks with the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar over trade claims could hurt travel and tourism and urge other countries to take actions against the U.S. “with some significant unintended consequences,” said Bill Flynn, CEO of freight company Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc..

Flynn was just one of several corporate executives who joined Tillerson during that said meeting in Washington, in in support of maintaining the existing aviation agreements with the Gulf nations.

Flynn was flanked by FedEx Corp. President David Bronczek and JetBlue Airways Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes, which form part of the U.S. Airlines for Open Skies, a coalition that continues to lobby to preserve the U.A.E. and Qatar deals.

The meeting added fuel to a raging debate over the American expansion of Emirates, Etihad Airways PJSC and Qatar Airways Ltd. According to Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc., the Gulf-based carriers are receiving subsidies amounting to $50 billion to purchase new jets and cover money-losing routes.

The said US airlines are lobbying the Trump administration to open talks with the Gulf nations over alleged violations of the “Open Skies” agreements that oversee flights among the countries.

Also there at the State Department meeting were U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow and Airports Council International – North America CEO Kevin Burke. The executives related to Tillerson that flights by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar create jobs in the U.S, rather than threaten them, according to a statement from the U.S. Travel Association.

Instead of lobbying Trump’s and Congress to amend aviation agreements, Delta, United and American should file a complaint under the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act, a law allowing the Department of Transportation to look into unfair competition by airlines, U.S. Travel said.

Jill Zuckman of the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies – a group that is representing Delta, United and American – pronounced that the airlines have an “unqualified right” to request the government to go into discussions over Open Skies quarrels. Nothing requires them to file a formal complaint under the IATFCPA.

“The idea to the contrary is a fiction that the Gulf carriers and their allies have invented because it suits their objective of throwing a wrench in the process and avoiding the U.S. government taking action”, Zuckman said.

“Our jobs are on the chopping block, which is why we are asking the administration to enforce our international agreements with the UAE and Qatar and stop the harm from escalating any further”, she added.

Tillerson expects to meet with representatives of the legacy U.S. airlines as soon as possible, and the agency is considering its next steps, a State Department official said.

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