Travel groups urge Trump to protect Gulf airline routes

Travel groups urge Trump to protect Gulf airline routes
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Airlines and travel groups are urging the Trump administration to protect Gulf airline routes to the U.S., which have come under heavy fire for receiving massive foreign subsidies.

In a letter to members of the administration on Monday, 28 organizations representing the airline, travel and tourism industries expressed strong support for keeping international Open Skies aviation agreements in place.

The groups said that the global framework has boosted international tourism, allowed cargo carriers to set up international route networks and brought down travel costs by nearly $4 billion every year.

“Open Skies agreements deliver substantial benefits for the U.S. economy. … All in all, Open Skies agreements support more than 15 million U.S. tourism and hospitality jobs,” the letter states.

“Unfortunately, these jobs are potentially jeopardized by demands from three U.S. passenger airlines to restrict access to the U.S. market for two Open Skies partners, in breach of our obligations.”

The letter — which includes signatures from the Airport Council International, U.S. Travel Association, Wyndham Worldwide and JetBlue — comes as the White House has been under increasing pressure to rework some of its international aviation agreements.

The major U.S. airlines have urged the administration to crack down on United Arab Emirates and Qatar for funneling more than $50 billion in subsidies to their state-owned airlines, which they say creates unfair competition and hurts U.S. airlines and workers.

"It’s pretty sad that some people are willing to risk the economic well-being of the American aviation industry and the 1.2 million jobs it supports, just to defend the Gulf carriers' ability to keep on taking billions of dollars in foreign government subsidies,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

But other airlines and travel industry groups argue that the rapid expansion of services from Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways has actually helped the U.S. economy.

“These airlines complain of unfair subsidies but have chosen not to use the Department of Transportation procedures that Congress established to hear such claims,” the letter says.

“We urge the Administration to protect Open Skies by insisting that these claims be assessed on the merits and in the proper forum.”