After Italian airline announced two new routes to San Francisco and Los Angeles, an organization representing the biggest United States carriers fought back, calling the move “an insult to the United States President”. While the rhetorics are unusual, the quarrel itself is far from fresh.

An insult to the President

On December 5, 2018, Air Italy announced two new routes to United States. Starting April 2019, the airline will fly from Milan (Italy) to Los Angeles and San Francisco, in addition to current routes to New York and Miami.

The following day, on December 6, 2018, an association representing, among others, three United States legacy carriers (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines), released a statement calling it “an insult to the U.S. President”. The issue here lies with the fact that since late 2017 Air Italy is partially owned by Qatar Airways. The Gulf carrier holds 49% of its shares.

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On February 19, 2018, the Italian airline Meridiana merged with its subsidiary Air Italy, taking up a new name, a new hub and a new ambitious strategy. Under its new owners, the airline will seek to grow its fleet and passenger numbers fourfold by 2022, having a goal to replace Alitalia and become the country’s national carrier.
 

“With the announcement of new routes from Air Italy to the U.S., fueled by money from Qatar Airways, the government of Qatar has demonstrated a stunning lack of respect for President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo,” said Scott Reed, campaign manager for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies is quoted in the statement.

But beyond the insult line, the claim is much simpler here: the organization is accusing the Qatari airline of using its Air Italy investment to violate Open Skies agreement with the U.S. not to launch new “fifth freedom” flights to the United States.

ion came just days after Qatar celebrated a ten year anniversary of flights to New York, also meaning a decade of its flights to the United States. “Tonight is an exciting one for Qatar Airways, as it is a celebration of more than a decade of serving the people of the United States,” Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker is quoted in a statement on December 3, 2018. “We have a very special relationship with the people of New York, as it was our first gateway into this country just over 10 years ago [...]”.

New page in old dispute

The disagreement between Qatar Airways and the abovementioned U.S. legacy carriers is far from new. In fact, Partnership for Open & Fair Skies was even formed to call the United States government to “enforce its Open Skies agreements with the UAE and Qatar”, accusing the two countries of “illegally” subsidizing their state owned airlines: Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

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Qatar Airways CEO AL Baker threatens to withdraw from the OneWorld alliance due to a trade dispute between the state-owned carrier and its archrival and alliance member American Airlines.  
 

In order to resolve the dispute, in January 2018, Qatar Airways agreed to make concessions in its Open Skies agreement with the biggest three U.S. carriers, promising to have greater financial transparency and to not to conduct “fifth freedom” flights to the U.S. (not run any indirect flights to the U.S. through other countries), Bloomberg wrote at the time.

Despite what seemed like a major step forward in the trade dispute, the situation has been heating up again. In March 2018, American Airlines announced ending code-sharing agreement with Qatar Airways and a similar one with Etihad, stating relationships between American and those carriers no longer “made sense”, CNBC reported.

More recently, in October 2018, Qatar Airways threatened to leave Oneworld alliance due to tensions with American Airlines. "Qatar's commitment to the OneWorld alliance has diminished as we are constantly being attacked by OneWorld partner,” Al Baker said at a media conference at the time, also sharing the statement on Qatar Airways’ official Twitter account.

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Qatar Airways CEO AL Baker threatens to withdraw from the OneWorld alliance due to a trade dispute between the state-owned carrier and its archrival and alliance member American Airlines.