Etihad-backed Air Berlin quits European airlines group over Gulf row

German airline says it sees 'no future in a protectionist aviation policy in Europe'; Alitalia also mulls AEA exit
Etihad-backed Air Berlin quits European airlines group over Gulf row
By Staff writer
Tue 21 Apr 2015 01:53 PM

Etihad-backed Air Berlin said on Tuesday it has cancelled membership with an European airline lobby group amid an escalating dispute over how to deal with the fast-growing Middle Eastern carriers.

The German carrier, in which Etihad Airways holds a 29 percent stake, has pulled out of the Association of European Airlines (AEA) as it sees "no future in a protectionist aviation policy in Europe", chief executive Stefan Pichler said.

The decision comes a week after British Airways parent company International Consolidated Airlines Group exited the European airline trade body citing "important policy issues".

"With its current focus and representation of interests, the AEA is not fulfilling these ideas, but allowing itself to be driven by airlines which desperately try to erect a new wall around Europe," Pichler said in a statement.

Several European airlines have clashed with Middle East carriers, such as Emirates Airline, Etihad and Qatar Airways, over their pace and method of growth.

Air France-KLM and Lufthansa have lobbied national governments and the European Union to curtail the growth of the rivals they accuse of benefiting from unfair state subsidies.

Separately, Italian career Alitalia could follow suit over the ongoing row over the competitive threat from Gulf carriers.

“A strong signal is needed and other airlines have already done that,” Alitalia chief executive officer Silvano Cassano told Bloomberg, adding that the company, which is 49 percent owned by Etihad Airways, will weigh “pros and cons” and take a decision on membership this week.

IAG said on Friday last week that its subsidiaries British Airways and Iberia had quit the European airline trade group after disagreeing with the policy of other members towards competition in the skies.

On its website, the AEA said that it “calls upon European governments to effectively dissuade non-EU governments from pursuing discriminatory policies which distort competition among international airlines.”

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