European Commission Steps Into US Airlines – Air Italy Argument

The European Commission has waded into the ongoing dispute between Air Italy and the big three United States airlines. The feud has been going on for some time now, with the US Airlines criticising Air Italy for its 49% Qatar Airways ownership.

European Commission Air Italy Dispute
The European Commission has waded into the Air Italy – US Carrier dispute. Photo: Air Italy

Both Qatar Airways and Air Italy continue to deny that the latter is working for the former. However, the big US three don’t seem satisfied with that response. As the dispute has intensified, incidents such as a 35-hour delay have started to be caused by the spat.

What is this spat about?

The ongoing spat between Air Italy and the big US three essentially boils down to the Italian carrier’s Qatari ownership. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines are not happy with this arrangement. The US carriers believe Qatar Airways is using the Italian carrier to expand into the US, in breach of an Open Skies agreement between the nations.

This has led to the carriers taking a range of actions against Air Italy. In fact, this had led to Mike Pompeo, The U.S. Secretary of State, investigating the relationship between the two carriers. More recently, American Airlines refused to sell the Italian carrier a part which they held in San Francisco. As a result, the airline’s flight was delayed for 35 hours.

European Commission Air Italy Dispute
The spat revolves around Qatar Airways’ 49% ownership of the Italian carrier. Photo: Air Italy

European Commission involvement

According to a letter seen by Air Transport World, the European Commission has now been forced to intervene in the spat. The EC Mobility and Transport director-general Henrik Hololei sent a message to Manisha Singh of the US State Department.

The European Commission is serious about using every avenue open to them if necessary. Indeed, Mr Hololei goes as far as to say “Therefore, any measure to curtail or end the rights of Air Italy to serve the US would constitute a clear and serious violation of the ATA.”

He then goes on to add: “The European Commission will take all steps necessary to defend the rights of the EU, its Member States and its air carriers under the ATA.”

European Commission Air Italy Dispute
Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker was present at Air Italy’s first Boeing 737 MAX delivery. Photo: Air Italy

Qatar Airways denies allegations

Qatar Airways has always denied the allegations against it and the Italian airline. Indeed, before the issue became as intense as it is now, Qatar was already distancing themselves. At a February press conference hosted by oneworld, Akbar Al Baker said that questions regarding Air Italy need to be addressed to the Italian carrier, as Qatar is just a minority shareholder.

Hopefully, before too long, a resolution will be found between Air Italy and the big US three. However, in the meantime, it looks as though the feud will remain.

Update: 17:00 UTC

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies contacted Simple Flying after this article’s publication with the following statement:

“With all due respect to Director-General Hololei, this new letter does not accurately represent the requests of the U.S. airlines or the work of the Trump administration. From Day One, we have focused on Qatar’s egregious and continuing trade violations. And we have asked President Trump to hold Qatar accountable for the sake of the 1.2 million American jobs that are directly threatened by Qatar’s ongoing misbehavior. Qatar Airways’ actions regarding Air Italy are designed to serve as a loophole to undermine last year’s agreement with the Trump administration. Qatar is responsible for these massive government subsidies and Qatar needs to be held accountable. We are confident that the Trump administration understands the distinction and we are grateful for the administration’s continued commitment to restoring fair competition and standing up for American jobs.”

What do you think of the European Commission’s involvement? Let us know in the comments!