Officials say unfair Persian Gulf airline subsidies hurt Delta Air Lines, Utah

Governor, mayor, legislative leaders urge secretaries of state, transportation to take action<br>

Utah officials say unfair subsidies of state-owned airlines by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are hurting Delta Air Lines and even its Salt Lake City International Airport hub. They are asking the secretaries of state and transportation to enforce terms of Open Skies agreements. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Utah officials say unfair airline subsidies by the Persian Gulf countries of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are hurting U.S. carriers such as Delta Air Lines and its hub at Salt Lake City International Airport.

Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, House Speaker Greg Hughes, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and most of Utah’s congressional delegation say in separate letters that those subsidies have chased U.S. carriers off routes to those countries, and soon may do so elsewhere.

They wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao contending that the subsidies to carriers Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways violate Open Skies agreements, and are pushing for corrective action.

“As a result of the subsidies, U.S. airlines have been forced to cancel all of their nonstop routes to Qatar and the UAE,” Biskupski wrote in one of the many letters, adding the subsidies are also creating unfair competition on corridors to Italy and Greece.

“When U.S. carriers are forced to shut down international routes, it can have spillover effects on the domestic flights that feed into their international hubs, like the Salt Lake International Airport, causing a chain reaction of economic losses,” the mayor wrote. “These are jobs that we cannot afford to lose.”

She added, “We have a strong partnership with Delta Air Lines and value strongly the thousands of employees that Delta has in Salt Lake City. These jobs are being put at risk due to unfair competition” from the three state-owned carriers.

Herbert wrote, “Because the Gulf carriers have the unlimited financial backing of their governments, they can drive down prices and operate at a loss in a way that U.S. carriers, which are accountable to their shareholders, cannot.”

Hughes and Niederhauser urged “firm action against Qatar and the UAE to ensure that there is a fair and equal opportunity for U.S. airlines to compete.”

“Ensuring Open Skies agreements are adhered to by all participants is critical to ensuring a robust American aviation system,” wrote Utah’s U.S. House members in a joint letter. “These agreements must be enforced to ensure a level playing field.”

Such letters have been organized nationwide by the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition of Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines and several airline unions.

“From Salt Lake City to Washington, Utah’s elected leaders have made it clear that the United States should properly enforce its Open Skies agreements and protect American workers,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokeswoman for the coalition.

“In order to protect the U.S. aviation industry, we need to enforce our Open Skies agreements by ending this trade cheating,” she said.