Un­sus­tain­able Aviation: The US Open Skies De­bate

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL -

Ac­cord­ing to the Part­ner­ship for Open and Fair Skies, Gulf-owned Qatar Air­ways, Eti­had Air­ways and Emi­rates aim to dom­i­nate global aviation by ex­ploit­ing Open Skies pol­icy and us­ing sub­si­dies to ex­ploit their un­fet­tered ac­cess to the US mar­ket, thereby threat­en­ing the US air­line in­dus­try, air­line jobs and the US econ­omy.

The US Open Skies De­bate

How­ever, an in­dus­try anal­y­sis re­leased by the Busi­ness Travel Coali­tion claims that the Part­ner­ship for Open and Fair Skies anti-Gulf air­line cam­paign is “Spin­ning to the core of the abyss.” Here’s the full re­lease:

The abyss of spin is when some­one is so des­per­ate to con­coct a com­pelling story that they be­come con­fused about whether they are on False Facts 1.0 or 2.0 or 3.0. Anti-Open Skies ad­vo­cates and their politi­cal cam­paign to stamp out air­line com­pe­ti­tion has reached this lowly dis­tinc­tion. As a re­sult, their at­tempt to re­sus­ci­tate their failed ad­vo­cacy cam­paign in­creas­ingly looks like a Three Stooges episode.

The Part­ner­ship for Open and Fair Skies (“Part­ner­ship”), more aptly, the Part­ner­ship for Less Con­sumer Choice and Higher Air­fares, just re­leased a news­pa­per ad claim­ing a sin­gle Emi­rates Air­line Newark-Athens-Dubai flight -- there has been no U.S.-Greece year-round non-stop air ser­vice for five years be­cause U.S. air­lines have cho­sen not to of­fer it -- puts 10 mil­lion Amer­i­can jobs at risk.

The same group, led by Delta Air Lines, then re­leased a ca­ble televi­sion com­mer­cial claim­ing com­pe­ti­tion with Emi­rates Air­line, Eti­had Air­ways and Qatar Air­ways (“Gulf Car­ri­ers”) puts 1.2 mil­lion U.S. air­line jobs at risk, even though the U.S. De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion’s (“DOT”) Bureau of Trans­porta­tion Sta­tis­tics in­di­cates that as of Jan­uary 2017 there are only 687,000 full and part-time U.S. air­line em­ploy­ees. To add to the con­fu­sion, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Flight At­ten­dants, a mem­ber of the Part­ner­ship, re­cently tes­ti­fied be­fore the U.S. Congress that 300,000 U.S. air­line jobs are at risk.

So which num­ber is ac­cu­rate? Of course, the an­swer is none of them. They are politi­cal talk­ing points with no ba­sis in re­al­ity. The largest U.S. air­lines are mak­ing record-set­ting prof­its be­cause there is too lit­tle, not too much, com­pe­ti­tion.

U.S. air­line jobs have soared by over 15 per­cent in the past two years. In 2016 alone em­ployee profit shar­ing pay­outs at Delta Air Lines to­talled $1.1 bil­lion (down from $1.5 bil­lion in 2015, the largest pay­out in the his­tory of cor­po­rate profit shar­ing pro­grams), $628 mil­lion at United Air­lines and $314 mil­lion at Amer­i­can Air­lines.

Facts are stub­born things. The re­al­ity is that the Part­ner­ship can­not point to a sin­gle Delta Air Lines, Amer­i­can Air­lines or United Air­lines (“Big 3”) wide­body air­craft that has been parked or a sin­gle em­ployee that has been fur­loughed due to com­pe­ti­tion with Gulf Car­ri­ers. Their en­tire nar­ra­tive is fic­tion. All their wide­body air­craft and the crew for them are fly­ing and help­ing the Big 3 con­tinue to rake in record prof­its.

One can­not blame the Part­ner­ship for trip­ping over their False Facts. They have so many that they can­not help but step on one at ev­ery turn. In 2015 and 2016, the Part­ner­ship claimed each wide­body flight not op­er­ated due to Gulf Car­rier com­pe­ti­tion cost 800 jobs. That same claim in 2017 by the Part­ner­ship mor­phed into 1,500 jobs. In a re­cent writ­ten state­ment to the U.S. Congress, the Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion (“ALPA”), also a mem­ber of the Part­ner­ship, used the old False Fact 1.0 that 800 jobs are lost. Ap­par­ently, ALPA didn’t get the memo from the Part­ner­ship that False Fact 1.0 had failed so they were up­grad­ing to False Fact 2.0. How­ever, ALPA should not feel sin­gled out. Amer­i­cans for Fair Skies, an­other ad­vo­cacy group for the anti-Open Skies U.S. air­lines, ap­par­ently did not re­ceive that memo ei­ther. That group’s web­site still dis­plays False Fact 1.0.

Many in­dus­try ob­servers won­der why the Big 3 failed to take the cus­tom­ary and long­stand­ing course of fil­ing an In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­porta­tion Fair Com­pet­i­tive Prac­tices Act (“IATFCPA”) com­plaint with DOT. That is the time-hon­ored ac­tion U.S. air­lines have taken when they have a griev­ance with for­eign air­line com­peti­tors.

The ex­pla­na­tion is sim­ple: IATFCPA is a fact-based re­view and the Big 3 know they can­not make a case un­der IATFCPA’s ex­act­ing factual re­quire­ments. The Big 3 and the Part­ner­ship assert their case is “ir­refutable.” How­ever, their fail­ure to file an IATFCPA com­plaint is most telling. They know False Facts 1.0, 2.0 and be­yond sim­ply won’t cut it in a DOT re­view. But, disin­gen­u­ously, they are hop­ing these False Facts nonethe­less are suf­fi­cient for their politi­cal cam­paign.

About the Part­ner­ship for Open & Fair Skies: This part­ner­ship is a coali­tion com­posed of Amer­i­can Air­lines, Delta Air Lines and United Air­lines, along with the Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion, Int’l, the Al­lied Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion, the Air­line Divi­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Brother­hood of Team­sters, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Flight At­ten­dantsCWA, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Flight At­ten­dants, the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of America and the South­west Air­lines Pi­lots’ As­so­ci­a­tion. www.openand­fairskies.com

About the Busi­ness Travel Coali­tion: Founded in 1994, the mis­sion of Busi­ness Travel Coali­tion is to in­ter­pret in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment poli­cies and prac­tices and pro­vide a plat­form so that the man­aged travel com­mu­nity can in­flu­ence is­sues of strate­gic im­por­tance to their or­gan­i­sa­tions. www.busi­nesstrav­el­coali­tion.com

About OpenSkies.travel: The mis­sion of OpenSkies.travel is to bring sig­nif­i­cant or­gan­i­sa­tion to the task of main­tain­ing aviation lib­er­al­i­sa­tion agree­ments in ac­cor­dance with the in­tent of the sig­na­to­ries to such ac­cords. Mem­bers in­clude cor­po­rate, uni­ver­sity and gov­ern­ment travel man­agers, travel man­age­ment com­pa­nies and dis­trib­u­tors, travel in­dus­try sup­pli­ers, con­sumer groups and travel or­gan­i­sa­tions from around the world.

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