International Hot-Topic Issues

By ALPA Staff

These two hot-button issues are among the legislative and regulatory priorities that ALPA is working to advance in 2018.

Open Skies Agreements: Safeguarding Fair Competition

The United States has Open Skies agree1ments with more than 120 partners. All these agreements are working as intended to expand international markets for U.S. airlines and their workers—except for two. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have violated the “fair and equal opportunity to compete” requirements of their agreements with the United States by subsidizing with more than $50 billion their state-owned airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways.

The massive subsidies that the UAE and Qatar give their airlines not only violate their Open Skies agreements, but they directly threaten American businesses and the jobs of U.S. aviation workers. The subsidies allow Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar to do business internationally with enormous economic advantages over U.S. airlines and without the need to make a profit.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration took steps to end Qatar’s unfair trade practices and protect fair competition and American jobs. In a nonbinding agreement with the government of Qatar, the U.S. government secured several important pledges that, if fulfilled, would help restore fair competition. For example, the Qatari government has agreed that its state-owned airline will bear the cost for operating into and out of its home airport, Hamad International, as U.S. airlines are required to do at their home airports. Qatar has also stated that it has no current intention that Qatar Airways will operate so-called Fifth Freedom flights to the United States. ALPA is watching closely to see whether Qatar delivers on these pledges.

The Trump administration’s actions are encouraging regarding Qatar’s subsidies, but it must now enforce the U.S. Open Skies agreement with the UAE to also end its government subsidies that unfairly benefit its state airlines, Emirates and Etihad. The U.S. State Department and the Department of Transportation have entered dialogue with the UAE to discuss the subsidies, signaling the potential to restore fair competition.

ALPA will continue to track developments and work with Members of Congress regarding the U.S. government’s talks with the UAE and the pledge received from Qatar to ensure that U.S. Open Skies agreements are enforced and U.S. workers have a fair opportunity to compete in the global marketplace.

Upholding the Fly America Act

The Fly America Act protects U.S. pilot jobs by generally requiring passengers whose travel is paid for by the U.S. government to fly on U.S. airlines. The act is intended to help improve the economic and competitive positions of U.S. flag carriers against foreign airlines. The General Services Administration (GSA), the arm of the government responsible for implementing Fly America, has allowed U.S. carriers to use their code-share flights with foreign carriers to carry U.S. government passengers without limitation. Delta and Air France or United and Lufthansa are allowed to carry Fly America traffic. However, airlines that do not and cannot currently fly long-haul service are allowed to code share without limitations with foreign competitors for Fly America travel with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

The price of admission for U.S airlines to bid for Fly America travel is that they must participate in the U.S. Air Force’s Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)—a program that uses aircraft from U.S. airlines that have contractually committed to support U.S. military airlift requirements in times of crisis. The most valuable type of airplane for CRAF use is long-haul international aircraft that can move large numbers of troops and cargo to distant points around the world.

In 2016, the GSA awarded the Fly America contract for travel on the Washington, D.C. (IAD)–Dubai (DXB) route to JetBlue, an airline that currently doesn’t have any aircraft capable of flying the route. JetBlue is only able to operate this route through a code-share agreement with Emirates. Although this arrangement benefits the airline’s bottom line, it doesn’t benefit JetBlue pilots or flight attendants. In the past, United was awarded the contract to carry government traffic on this route and operated it with its own airplanes and pilots. By undermining the U.S. international air fleet available to CRAF, U.S. security is put at risk.

ALPA is responding to this threat by working with Congress and the airline industry. The Association is urging the U.S. government to live up to the letter and spirit of the Fly America Act to keep U.S. aviation careers safe and the nation secure.

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)