Dubai's Emirates Airline has hit out at US rival Delta Airlines over its objection to the Gulf carrier operating flights from Milan to New York.
An Italian court in April ruled the Dubai carrier cannot operate flights directly between Milan Malpensa airport and New York, upholding a legal challenge brought against the Gulf airline by the Italian carrier association Assaereo.
Assaereo, whose biggest member is domestic flagship airline Alitalia, had complained that Italy's civil aviation authority had granted Emirates the right to extend flights between Italy and the US.
Assaereo claimed the Gulf carrier has no right to operate what is known as a fifth freedom service, the industry name for a service between two countries operated by a carrier that is not based in either the origin or destination country.
While the Council of State, which is a higher body, temporarily suspended that decision and Emirates has resumed service of the route, US carrier Delta, which also operates a Milan to New York service, claimed Emirates had no place operating the service.
"The TAR Lazio decision makes it clear that UAE-based Emirates is not authorised to operate this non-stop service," Delta said in a statement. "The Emirates route provides no additional benefit for travellers who are already well-served by US and Italian carriers between Milan and New York and could significantly harm US and Italian airline employees by adding unnecessary capacity to an already competitive market."
However, Emirates hit out at Delta’s stance in a piece in the airline’s official Open Sky magazine.
“In truth, Emirates’ service is receiving strong demand from passengers in all classes, with the route receiving between 6,000 to 8,000 new bookings every month, and average seat factors for this summer are projected to reach 90 percent,” the article said.
“5th Freedom services have existed for decades and provides consumers, airports, and communities with an important competitive alternative. Where 5th Freedom services are authorised – as they are, without restriction, as part of every US Open Skies agreement – airlines are and should be free to decide whether they make commercial sense and address un-met consumer demand.”
Addressing the US rival directly, it said: “Delta, despite its seemingly principled position against 5th Freedom flights, has more than a few 5th Freedom flights of its own, which it conveniently forgets to mention in its frequent and ongoing commentary about Emirates.
“Singapore Airlines already operates fifth-freedom US routes between Houston and Moscow; New York and Frankfurt; Los Angeles and Tokyo; San Francisco and Seoul; and San Francisco and Hong Kong, and nobody seems to mind.”
In a statement, an Emirates spokesperson added: “Our passengers can be assured that we will continue to operate as normal on the Milan/JFK route until the final judgment of the appeal court, anticipated to be issued no earlier than the end of this year.”
The legal battle comes as fellow UAE carrier Etihad is engaged in advanced negotiations to buy a 49 percent stake in Alitalia.