United blames Gulf airline subsidies for Middle East flight cut

United blames Gulf airline subsidies for Middle East flight cut
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United Airlines is blaming alleged Middle Eastern airline subsidies for a cutback on its flights to Dubai. 

The company said it is eliminating daily flight service from Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport to Dubai at the beginning of next year. 

United is blaming 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. 

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"Due to Gulf carriers’ expansion and a recent U.S. government decision, we are discontinuing our Washington Dulles-Dubai service," United wrote in a blog post on its website. 

"Our last departure from Washington, D.C. to Dubai will be on Jan. 23, 2016, and the last departure from Dubai will be on Jan. 25, 2016," the blog post continued. "Our joint venture partners Lufthansa Group and Air Canada will continue to serve Dubai." 

United and other major U.S. airlines like Delta 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 say 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.

United said Wednesday that it is unable to compete fairly with Gulf carriers on flights from Washington, D.C. to Dubai because of the alleged subsidies that U.S. airlines say have been received by their Middle Eastern competitors. 

"For months, we’ve been speaking out about the ways unprecedented government subsidies to Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways distort competition and threaten U.S. airline jobs," United said. "We continue to call on the Obama administration to request consultations with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to ensure Open Skies agreements are being enforced." 

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. 

They have accused the airlines of trying to reduce competition for international flights.

“The U.A.E. government will oppose any attempts to restrict, limit, or control air services,” U.A.E. Minister of Economy Sultan Al Mansoori said in speech in November, according to a Bloomberg report

“It’s time to encourage and facilitate more competition and more consumer choice,” he continued. 

Passenger advocacy groups have largely sided with the Middle Eastern carriers, accusing U.S. airlines of trying to keep international flights artificially high by stifling competition. 

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

They said Wednesday that United's decision to cut service from Washington, D.C. to Dubai is the latest negative repercussion of the alleged subsidies that have been received by Middle Eastern airlines that offer service to U.S. airports. 

"This is just the latest example of the economic harm caused by unchecked, massive government subsidies to the Gulf airlines," Partnership for Open and Fair Skies chief spokesperson Jill Zuckman said in a statement, citing an earlier decision by Delta to cut service from Atlanta to Dubai

"United’s decision is further proof that the billions of dollars in Gulf carrier subsidies have distorted the playing field and made true competition impossible for U.S. carriers," Zuckman continued. "When this happens, the men and women of the U.S. aviation industry are the ones who are hurt. We encourage the Obama administration to show its commitment to hardworking Americans and begin a dialogue with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to level the playing field in the aviation industry."