In an official 84-page response to unfair competition claims made by US airlines against Gulf carriers, Qatar Airways has called on the American government to reject any changes to its current business agreement.
The complaints made by the American carriers are “overblown” and merely “a transparent and concerted attempt by the Big Three to block the introduction of air service options that offer an alternative to their own,” Qatar’s national carrier asserted.
In a statement, CEO Akbar Al Baker said:
“It is puzzling to see the biggest US carriers describe Qatar Airways as a “threat,” given our small size and lack of direct competition with them. Their long-standing focus on other markets, and large (and growing) profits completely undercut this claim.
…We are concerned to see the Big 3 seek to change the rules of the game as soon as they see US consumers respond well to the services offered by a competitor.”
Qatar Airways, which is state-owned, and its Gulf competitors Emirates and Etihad have been embroiled in an increasingly combative dispute with three major airlines in the US – Delta, American and United.
The carriers, as well as a coalition of other American groups, have demanded that the US government renegotiate its Open Skies agreement with Qatar and the Emirates, which allows airlines, rather than government regulators, to determine the frequency and capacity of flights.
The group, called Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, claims that Gulf carriers have benefited from $42 billion in subsidies from their respective governments.
The three GCC airlines have all denied accusations of unfair competition.
This week, Qatar Airways became the last Gulf carrier to submit its formal defense to the US government, which has opened an investigation into the matter.
In its white paper, Qatar Airways attributed its rapid growth not to government assistance, but instead to “important advances in aircraft technology and significant demographic changes.”
In a press statement, the airline said:
“With ultra-long range B777 and B787 aircraft, passengers bound for the Middle East and India can now over-fly congested European hubs, and enjoy convenient one-stop services to their destinations, instead of making longer two-and three stop journeys. These technological changes have shortened travel times, and have brought families and businesses closer together.”
The white paper also addressed specific claims that the national carrier has received $16.5 billion worth of forgiven loans, free land, grants and other forms of support from the Qatar government over the past 11 years.
It called those findings “replete with factual and methodological errors, if not outright deceptions.”
In addition to manipulating financial data, the report contained several factual inaccuracies, including basic information about when Qatar Airways actually launched, the airline said.
“Errors such as these are fundamental and underscore the lengths to which the Big Three (US carriers) strained to reach their conclusions,” the white paper said.
Qatar Airways also countered claims that it harms American employment, saying it plans to employ 250 people in the US by the end of its current financial year.
It added that almost half of passengers on Qatar Airways flights to the US are visitors who spend money on hotel accommodation, car rentals and other items, contributing some $900 million to the economy and sustaining 27,000 jobs.
The national carrier is also among the largest customers of US plane manufacturer Boeing, which has benefited from the airlines’ rapid expansion.
Read the full white paper here. Thoughts?