Turbulent Open Skies comment period closing

Turbulent Open Skies comment period closing

The window for airlines and travel groups to weigh in with the Obama administration on a dispute over foreign airline subsidies that has roiled the U.S. aviation industry is closing on Monday. 

Unions that represent employees of the largest U.S. airlines, known collectively within the aviation industry as the Big Three, have alleged Emirates and other Middle Eastern airlines, like Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, have received more than $42 billion in subsidies since 2004.

The major U.S. airlines — Delta, United and American — say the payments to their Middle Eastern competitors violate the spirit of the Open Skies agreements between the U.S. and the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which own the airlines. 

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They want the Obama administration to launch a review of the claims with the Middle Eastern governments, which would involve a delicate set of negotiations that critics said would upset other areas of foreign relations.

The Departments of State, Commerce and Transportation launched a docket for the complaints that will precede any potential international engagement on the Open Skies issue that is closing on Monday. 

Nearly 3,000 comments have been submitted as of Monday morning. 

The fight over the Open Skies agreements has exposed a rift between airlines and travel and consumer groups that argue U.S. carriers are trying to prevent competition for international flights.

Unions that represent U.S. airline workers have formed campaigns to pressure the Obama administration to question the Persian Gulf carrier subsidies. 

Travel industry and consumer groups have, meanwhile, accused the airlines of trying to reduce competition for international flights. 

The review launched by the Obama administration of the airline industry’s claims falls far short of the full-scale international negotiation the U.S. carriers have called for, but it was still seen as a win for airlines that the docket was established.