The European Commission (EC) has given the U.S. a stern warning not to take any action against Milan-based Air Italy that would prevent it flying to the U.S., a report by industry
publication Air Transport World (ATW) revealed.
In a letter to U.S. State Department under secretary, economic growth, energy and environment, Manisha Singh, EC Mobility and Transport director general Henrik Hololei stated that the EC “will take all steps necessary to defend the rights of the European Union (EU), its Member States and its air carriers” under the EU-U.S. Open Skies agreement, which permits EU country-based airlines like Air Italy to fly to any U.S. destination and vice versa.
The EC warning follows recent attempts by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to challenge Air Italy’s flights to the U.S. because Qatar Airways has a 49% stake in the Italian
carrier. A recent petition circulating on Capitol Hill by U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko (D-Arizona) reiterates the allegations made by the three U.S. carriers.
To support their case, AA, Delta and United, which already have a near monopoly on the trans-Atlantic thanks to several antitrust immunised partnerships with European carriers, have taken out full-page advertisements in U.S. newspapers and lobbied Congress, claiming that Air Italy’s services are really Qatar Airways fifth freedom flights.
The ATW report quoted Hololei as saying in the letter to Singh that he has "come to understand that, following persistent, but unfounded demands from certain parts of the U.S. airline industry, the U.S. administration is potentially considering taking measures against the services of Air Italy to the United States. In this context, I would like to bring to your attention our serious concerns."
“Clear and serious violation”
Hololei made it clear in his letter that the EU's standpoint is that “Air Italy is an established EU carrier and its services to the U.S. are covered by and fully consistent with the EU-U.S. Air Transport Agreement (ATA) using 3rd and 4th freedom traffic rights between the EU and the U.S. Therefore, any measure to curtail or end the rights of Air Italy to serve the U.S would constitute a clear and serious violation of the ATA".
Hololei rings the alarm bells
He continued by saying that “Such action would be unprecedented and would put into question the most fundamental principles under which our aviation relations have so successfully developed over more than 10 years. I am sure that you would agree with me that the ATA has served us all well and we are always ready to work together with you and your team on this, including on clarifying incorrect public allegations and representations made by certain market participants."
“The European Commission will take all steps necessary to defend the rights of the EU, its Member States and its air carriers under the ATA,” the EC Mobility and Transport director general warned.
The EC letter to U.S. authorities follows a backlash by a coalition of aviation groups against the earlier-mentioned Lesko petition, comprising airports, cargo carriers, U.S. travellers and New York-based JetBlue Airways.
Shooting themselves in the foot
The aviation grouping described the Lesko petition as being "premised on misleading claims promoted by parties that stand to benefit financially and its fundamental basis is incompatible with the facts regarding Open Skies and contrary to the broader economic interests of the U.S. aviation, manufacturing and tourism industries, and the millions of American customers we serve.”
In an editorial, ATW noted that "if the EC is forced to retaliate, the biggest losers would be the U.S. majors and their European airline partners...the U.S.-EU Open Skies was probably the best government policy for their businesses after U.S. deregulation. They need to stop shooting themselves in the foot."
Nol van Fenema