Will Persian-Gulf subsidies cost U.S. jobs?

  • Airlines officials, pilots and flight attendants appeared at a news conference at O'Hare Tuesday trying to stop subsidies to Gulf state carriers.

    Airlines officials, pilots and flight attendants appeared at a news conference at O'Hare Tuesday trying to stop subsidies to Gulf state carriers. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/28/2015 5:53 PM

Subsidies to foreign airlines from governments in the Persian Gulf could cost more than 25,000 jobs in the Chicago area, a coalition of U.S. airlines, pilots and flight attendants warned Tuesday.

"If these subsidies aren't addressed soon, pilots, flight attendants and many more aviation employees will lose their jobs," Arlington Heights pilot Dennis Tajer said during a news conference at O'Hare International Airport.

 

Coalition members said the subsidies contravene an international agreement and allow Gulf state competitors to offer cheaper fares, undercutting U.S. carriers. They urged the White House to intervene.

"It's about fair versus unfair competition," pilot Kevin Ford of South Elgin said.

The governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have provided about $42 billion in aid to Gulf state carriers such as Qatar Airways and Emirates Airways, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies stated. The coalition includes United, American and Delta airlines along with pilot and flight attendants' unions.

Emirates Airlines denied the carrier was accepting subsidies.

"We have been profitable for 27 years straight and unlike our accusers, we have never depended on government bailouts or protection from competition," Emirates' President Sir Tim Clark said in a June 30 statement.

Qatar Airways could not be reached for comment.

Partnership representatives said the practice of subsidies contravenes the Open Skies agreement, a pact between the U.S. and other countries to expand international flights without government intervention. Subsidies included interest-free loans, grants and exemptions to passenger and airport fees.

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Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association that represents American Airlines pilots, likened the subsidies to the "corked bats and loads of steroids" that can give baseball players an illegal advantage.

Employees in the two Gulf state airlines aren't allowed to unionize, and female flight attendants are discriminated against, American Airlines flight attendant Jena Olsen said.

The coalition has support from Illinois lawmakers including congressman Daniel Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat and member of the House Transportation Committee.

He and congressman Bob Dold, a Kenilworth Republican, along with other legislators have asked the White House to hold formal talks with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates about ending the subsidies.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, asking for similar intervention. "I strongly believe every airline flying into O'Hare must play by the same set of rules," he wrote.

The subsidies, he said, have "allowed these Gulf carriers to grow at an astounding rate and with an expanding global presence and a substantial cost advantage over U.S. carriers."

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