Delta blames Gulf airlines for Middle East flight cutbacks

Delta blames Gulf airlines for Middle East flight cutbacks
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Delta Air Lines is blaming alleged Middle Eastern airline subsidies for a cutback on its flights to Dubai, Reuters reports

The company said it is eliminating daily flight service from Atlanta to Dubai, beginning on Oct. 1, and moving to a four or five times per week schedule for the fall and winter, according to the report. 

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A Delta spokesman blamed the cutback on alleged subsidies that have been received by Middle Eastern airlines that U.S. airlines argue is giving their competitors an unfair business advantage. 

"The reduction comes amid overcapacity on U.S. routes to the Middle East operated by government-owned and subsidized airlines," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said in a statement included in the report. 

The fight over foreign airline subsidies has become a turbulent battle that has roiled the nation’s aviation industry.  

U.S. airlines Delta, United and American, known as the Big Three, have accused Persian Gulf carriers, like Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates, of receiving billions of dollars in subsidies since 2004.  

The major U.S. airlines said the payments to 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 Gulf airlines. 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 have said would upset other areas of foreign relations.

The Persian Gulf carriers have denied violating the Open Skies agreements, and they have argued that U.S. airlines have historically received subsidies from the federal government at times of distress, such as the period after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. 

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

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