By Ed Attwood
Sir Tim Clark says fifth freedom connections are not a priority but “we might do one or two”
Between 10 and 15 European countries asked Emirates Airline to set up fifth freedom routes through their airports and onto the US after the success of the Dubai-based carrier’s operation out of Milan, Emirates president Sir Tim Clark has revealed.
Fifth freedom rights allow airlines to operate routes outside their own countries. Emirates launched flights between Milan and New York two years ago.
“There is terror, concern, that we’re going to do it from every European airport, and let’s make it absolutely clear – once we did Malpensa to New York, 10 or 15 countries… came to us independently or indirectly and asked us to do exactly the same,” Clark said, during a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.
He declined to name which countries had made the request.
The ‘big three’ US carriers – Delta, United and American Airlines – have accused the three Gulf airlines of being propped up by government subsidies. Emirates issued a point-by-point rebuttal to those allegations on Tuesday morning.
In particular, the white paper issued by the ‘big three’ claimed that fifth freedom flights were “particularly harmful to US carriers” and warning that American operators might have to exit routes if the trend continued.
In its rebuttal, Emirates said that the three US airlines and their joint venture partners saw a 46 percent growth in bookings on the New York-Milan route after the Dubai carrier launched its services, due to stimulated demand.
Clark said that Emirates’ focus for the time being was to concentrate on its core strategy – long-haul activity over a global hub. But he refused to say whether or not the airline would add more fifth freedom flights in the future.
“Could we do it? Yes, we could,” the Emirates president said. “To be quite honest, there are open skies agreements we have with the Europeans and bilaterally, that would allow us to do that.
”Whether we would take that, I don’t know. Again, I would never say never, we might do one or two, but I cannot see us doing 20 points out of Europe into the US.
“I’m not going to make any promises to anybody about fifth freedom operations because the open skies agreement invites you, wants you, welcomes you to do that.”
Clark also said that Emirates was committed to following its original US expansion plan, which is to provide services to 20 cities. The airline will shortly start flying to Orlando, its tenth American destination.
It is likely that the new routes will include Philadelphia, which is already serviced by Qatar Airways.
“Philadelphia was always in the frame in terms of the 20 cities we were looking at,” Clark said. “We have had an engagement with them, there have been many. They are hugely supportive of our presence, and of our position with regard to this particular issue [the subsidies row].”For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.