Rivals seek to keep Gulf carriers in check

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Published: June 29, 2011

Max Kingsley-Jones/Singapore

The growing antagonism between legacy network carriers and the expanding Gulf airlines spilled over again at the IATA annual general meeting in Singapore, amid more arguments over free market access and government protection.

The exchange, which took place during one of the AGM sessions, came just weeks after Emirates was again rebuffed in its efforts to gain access to additional German cities.

Germany’s transport ministry decided in May that the existing air transport bilateral with the United Arab Emirates, which limits Emirates’ arrival points in Germany to four cities, does not need adjusting.

The Dubai carrier currently serves Germany 49 times a week through Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich, but adding proposed new routes to Stuttgart and Berlin would mean giving up two existing destinations. The arrangement is based “on the size of the mutual home markets”, says the ministry.

Emirates says it remains “hopeful” of eventually being granted additional access rights. In the meantime it is upgrading one of its two daily Munich services to an Airbus A380 from 1 January.

At the IATA AGM, Robert Milton, chief executive of Air Canada parent ACE Aviation, accused Emirates and its Gulf rivals Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways of being “the most protected” carriers and said that they cannot be allowed unfettered access to markets. “They are arguing for free access, but aren’t we talking about the most protected, most government-supported carriers around?” he said.

Emirates president Tim Clark countered that the accusations of government aid were like a “cracked record”, adding: “Show me evidence of a non-level playing field.”

Clark told Airline Business: “We’re not going to go away,” despite efforts by rivals to curtail Emirates’ growth that have been in play since 2005. “In that time we’ve grown from 70 aircraft to over 150 – so what’s been achieved? Nothing. It’s time they realised that we’re a fact of commercial economic reality.”

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the arguments against Gulf carriers made little sense in an “age of globalisation and free trade”.


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