The US State Department is planning talks with the UAE and Qatar to discuss allegations that the Gulf nations have spent billions of dollars subsidising their state-sponsored airlines, people familiar with the matter said.
The Trump administration will seek commitments to financial transparency, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. They said the meetings will start as early as this week.
US airlines have been pushing for a crackdown on what they describe as more than $50 billion in unfair subsidies for, Emirates Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
The State Department will also enquire about the Gulf airlines’ plans for “fifth freedom” flights, which start in an airline’s home country and touch down in a different nation before continuing on to the US, the people said, citing a meeting Tuesday between US aviation-related executives and the State Department.
US officials will also push the Gulf countries to keep an arm’s-length approach toward their carriers, the people said.
Government-to-government talks would mark a renewed US focus on the airline trade spat, which has been raging for years.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump said the Gulf carriers received major government subsidies, without specifying what action he might consider. The Obama administration conducted “informal, technical” discussions with representatives of Qatar and the UAE late last year without taking action.
The State Department confirmed that Paul Brown, its acting deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs, attended the meeting. The agency didn’t provide additional details.
Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The airlines have disputed the allegations of their US rivals.
The Gulf carriers “are harming American jobs and the US aviation industry and we appreciate that the administration is acting to resolve these issues with the governments of the UAE and Qatar,” said the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, which represents Delta Air Lines, United Continental, American Airlines and airline unions.
The US Travel Association said the talks would take place outside of formal “open skies” agreements.
“The Big Three US airlines’ core demand - that the administration freeze flights by airlines flagged in Qatar and the UAE, and renegotiate US open skies agreements with those countries - was, thankfully, set aside because their arguments fell well short of the mark,” US Travel Chief Executive Officer Roger Dow said.
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