Airline executives praise US agreement with Qatar over subsidies

Airline executives praise US agreement with Qatar over subsidies
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Airline executives and labor unions on Tuesday praised the agreement reached between the Trump administration and Qatar aimed at settling a feud over airline subsidies.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian called the agreement "a strong first step in a process for commercial transparency and accountability" while saying the airline will continuing working with the Trump administration "to address the harmful trade violations by the United Arab Emirates."

"We are grateful to the Trump administration for working to restore a level playing field for the U.S. aviation industry and to the tens of thousands of Delta people who have made their voices heard in an effort to protect millions of American jobs and put an end to unfair competition," he said.

The CEOs of both American Airlines and United also applauded the agreement, arguing it will protect both U.S. workers and jobs.

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Airlines voiced support for the deal after the State Department announced Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with Qatar to address an ongoing dispute about airline subsidies.

Under the arrangement, Qatar will publicly disclose its financial transactions and participate in an external audit in an effort to promote transparency, according to the State Department.

The U.S. aviation industry has for years argued that Qatar’s subsidies to the state-owned Qatar Airways undercuts the international Open Skies Agreement and creates unfair competition.

“Billions of dollars' worth of subsidies later, it’s nice to know that at least one of the ME3 airlines is maneuvering toward a level playing field,” Captain Dan Care, the president of the Allied Pilots Association, said in a statement Tuesday.

Groups like the U.S. Travel Association, however, have pushed back against the aviation industry and pressed the Trump administration to keep the Open Skies accord intact.

"We are very pleased that the Big Three U.S. airlines and their allies are embracing the administration's wise decision to reject both a freeze on international flights and renegotiation of Open Skies agreements,” Roger Dow, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday.

“America needs healthy domestic airlines, but we have believed since the beginning of this debate that tampering with Open Skies would clearly harm the U.S. economy and jobs.”

The administration announced the agreement during the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue meeting between Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisWatchdog: Former Pentagon spokeswoman misused staff for personal errands Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats What is Trump's Iran end game? MORE and their Qatari counterparts.

“Qatar is a strong partner and a longtime friend of the United States,” Tillerson said. “We value the U.S.-Qatar relationship and hope the talks today deepen our strategic ties.”

The Trump administration late last year resisted calls to crack down on the subsidies, including from lawmakers who urged the administration to alter aviation agreements with Gulf nations that subsidize their state-owned airlines.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition that represents American, United and Delta, said it would work with the administration to address subsidies that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) provides to its two state-owned airlines. 

- Updated at 3:44 p.m.