Last Thursday, Dutch junior transport minister Wilma Jacqueline Mansveld decided to stop further expansion of Gulf airlines at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport because of perceived unfair competition with Air France-KLM. Her resolute political step which came as a real bombshell has prompted applauds but also harsh criticism.
Mrs Mansveld's move to freeze the traffic rights of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways at AMS, has prompted the Dutch shipper group EVO to call for passenger and cargo traffic rights to be
Dutch media reports quoted EVO spokesman Joost van Doesburg as saying that, following Air France-KLM Cargo’s move to reduce its freighter fleet, the market should be liberalised for main-deck capacity.
“Air cargo is completely different from passenger traffic, so the two should be separated as far as traffic rights are concerned," van Doesburg noted, adding that despite rather liberal traffic rights at Schiphol Airport, the Dutch government still had imposed restrictions on some carriers.
Graeber sees enough freighter capacity at AMS
In contrast, cargo helmsman Bram Graeber of the French-Dutch carrier argues that currently there are already more than 24 cargo operators serving Amsterdam regularly. This offers the market sufficient choice and diversity both in flights and main deck capacity. Indirectly addressing van Doesburg he says that “nobody should be worried about the development of Amsterdam Schiphol.” This all the more since “the Gulf carrier’s existing traffic rights will be fully respected.”
LH speaks of cut-throat competition
On a more general note Lufthansa said that "given the global discussion about the predatory competition initiated by the state-sponsored Gulf carriers, it is right and proper that the aviation and traffic matters are continuously put under scrutiny.”
AEA favors ongoing traffic rights discussions between the EU and Gulf States
Communications manager Geert Sciot of the Association of European Airlines (AEA) pointed out that his organization is in favor of competition but only if fair and fought on a level playing field. Geert added that there are ongoing discussions on traffic issues between the Gulf States and the EU, which are supported by the AEA. He made clear that Mrs Mansveld’s decision to freeze traffic rights at AMS is a bilateral matter between her ministry and the Qatari and Emirati governments.
Unlike the open skies treaty between Washington and Brussels there isn’t a likewise air traffic agreement in existence between the Gulf States and the European Union. Therefore, every single EU
State can decide by itself if expanding or restricting flight concessions, even granting Gulf carriers 5th freedom rights, the AEA speaker states.
Ill-timed move by Mansveld, critics say
Meanwhile, critics are arguing that Ms van Mansveld’s announcement has been ill-timed, because the EU still has to finalize its investigation in the unfair financial support which the Middle Eastern airlines allegedly receive from their governments.
In a related development, the French government has denied a report in French newspaper Le Monde that Paris was forced to grant valuable air traffic right concessions to secure a 6.3 billion euros (US$7.1 billion) deal with Qatar to acquire 24 Rafale fight jets from Dassault Aviation. The report said that François Hollande's government was forced to grant Qatar Airways additional traffic rights to Lyon and Nice in order to win the contract.
Nol van Fenema / Heiner Siegmund