The three American carriers Delta, United and American Airlines have released an ad video, which urges the Trump Administration to intervene in the quarrel the airlines have against Air Italy and their shareholder Qatar Airways.
Even though US airlines have been in competition and targeted Qatar Airways for long, the argument against Air Italy started in the spring of 2018, after the Italian airline announced it would start expanding in the United States, to destinations such as Miami.
The expansion was announced after Qatar Airways, who owns 49% of Air Italy, signed an agreement with the United States, which would limit Qatar’s ability to perform fifth freedom flights between Europe and the US, which are incredibly profitable.
However, after Air Italy started its US expansion, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, which represents the three American airlines, accused Qatar Airways that Air Italy’s expansion was nothing but a way for them to get around the previously mentioned agreement, and to further profit from the rich EU-US market.
In April of this year, Air Italy responded to the allegation by issuing a press release replying to the accusations made by the US carriers. In the press release, Air Italy stated that they
are a “registered European airline”, and that their “ownership structure has been reviewed by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority and the European Commission”. They added that “Qatar Airways [...] does not codeshare on their Italy-US routes.” They invited the American carriers to “address their complaints to the ENAC [Italian Civil Aviation Authority] or the European Commission, […] if they really believe that Air Italy is a threat to the market.”
Other US companies, such as JetBlue and cargo airlines Atlas Air and FedEx, recognized Air Italy as a legitimate European airline, and added that under the Open Skies Act they were allowed to expand in the US at their discretion.
In the past months Air Italy presented two new routes from their Milan Malpensa hub: Los Angeles and San Francisco, which is one of the reasons the US carriers decided to release the video.
The short video begins with a quote by President Trump, in which he states, “We [The Trump Administration] will stand up to trade cheating anywhere and everywhere it threatens the American jobs.” The video also states that “1.2 million American jobs are at risk [...] because Middle East carriers pump billions in illegal subsidies into their airlines.”
The narrator then thanks President Trump for “taking action”, and reminds him that “America’s airline workers are counting on you to enforce our trade agreements,” because “Qatar continues to break the rules.”
Qatar Airways and Air Italy have not commented on the ad yet, and neither has the White House.
By releasing the video, United, Delta and American hope that the US government will take the matter into their hands, and recognize Air Italy’s US expansion as illegal.
However, involving the Trump Administration comes with a risk, as the situation could influence the Open Skies Act, which regulates transatlantic flights. If regulations change, it is likely that the transatlantic flight rules and market would change drastically. This is also the reason why airlines like JetBlue, who are looking to expand across the Atlantic Ocean, side with Air Italy.
As President Trump has not yet responded to the ad video, it is not yet known how the situation will evolve.
Link to the ad video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67l9UHbWdBk