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WASHINGTON, DC: April 18, 2019. Qatar Airways has rejected claims by American, Delta and United that its 49 percent shareholding in Air Italy amounts to illegal competition under the US Open Skies treaty with Qatar.

Acknowledging the Italian airline is certified by the European Union and therefore governed by the Open Skies treaty between the US and the EU, FedEx chairman Fred Smith, Jet Blue CEO Robin Hayes and Atlas Air Worldwide president Bill Flynn, have written to US secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao* to “set the record straight”.

The heads of the three companies, members of the US Airlines for Open Skies Coalition (USAOS), said in their letter that applying an “illogical” argument against Air Italy’s daily flight from Milan to New York would also mean applying it to Virgin Atlantic services because Delta has a similar 49 percent stake.

Jet Blue A321“Further, American Airlines’ investment in state-owned and state-supported China Southern would turn China Southern’s flights from Beijing to Guangzhou into cabotage by American" they said, while warning the Trump administration against retaliation if it listened to the three legacy carriers.

“Should the US breach the US-Qatar agreement by restricting Qatar Airways’ rights into the US, or the US-EU agreement by restricting Air Italy flights, we can expect to see a rapid unraveling of hard-fought aviation rights around the world when other governments take similar action to shield their state-owned airlines from competition.”

One example would be JetBlue that has announced plans to operate from Boston and New York to London in 2021 with an Airbus A321LR. “The possibility of retaliation could have a devastating impact on the ability to obtain authority to operate in the EU under the US-EU Open Skies agreement,” the letter continued.

According to the three executives, the current US Open Skies policy is one of the most successful economic and diplomatic initiatives in American history. Together with domestic airline deregulation, they said it has greatly expanded air service access at US communities, stimulating economic growth in the process; produced record profits for US airlines both passenger and cargo; and has created jobs for American workers at home and abroad.

Jet Blue said the imminent delivery of its first Airbus A321neo would enable it to operate a new nonstop route between JFK and Guayaquil in December this year - a distance of 2,580 nautical miles. Arkia Israeli Airlines was the launch customer of the A321LR last November followed by TAP Air Portugal earlier this month with the first of 12 A321LR aircraft on order.

*Elaine Chao is the wife of US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell – a six-term senator from Kentucky.

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