US Airlines Air Italy Spat Leads To 35 Hour Delay

American Airlines has refused to sell a part to Air Italy, despite having it right when they needed it. The San Francisco to Milan flight, due to depart on 2nd June, was consequently delayed for over 35 hours while Air Italy sourced a part from elsewhere. The airline CEO has lamented the lack of cooperation from their American rivals, calling the situation ‘sad’.

Air Italy A330
The Air Italy A330 was stranded for 35 hours. Photo: Wikimedia

The US spat with Air Italy has reached a new level of puerility this week, as American Airlines show just how far they’re prepared to sink in their campaign against the little Italian airline that could. According to View From The Wing, they caused a massive 35 hour delay because they wouldn’t help Air Italy out with a spare part when they needed it.

What happened?

There’s an unwritten rule in aviation that carriers help each other out when they can. It’s been a tradition for many years that, in the event of irregular operations, assistance is given at a mutually agreed upon price. American Airlines, however, appears to have forgotten this, as was demonstrated last week in San Francisco.

Air Italy’s scheduled flight IG938 from San Francisco to Milan had a mechanical issue. American Airlines has a maintenance base in SFO, and is an operator of the A330, just like Air Italy. They had the part Air Italy needed to get back in the air… but they refused to sell it to them.

Chief Executive of Air Italy, Rossen Dimitrov, spoke to Italian news agency Corriere about the situation, saying that,

“Do you know what happened these days? One of our aircraft was damaged in San Francisco and could not leave without the spare part. Our ground aide asked American Airlines if they had that piece, they had it and when we asked for it they refused to send it to us and our plane was stopped for some time. Had it happened at Malpensa we would have done everything possible to help them.”

Why did American Airlines refuse to sell the part?

According to View From The Wing, American said they needed the part themselves for “scheduled upcoming maintenance”. However, they went on to say that even if they were able to release the part, they would not have done so for Air Italy because they would have to be “an approved carrier and have a partnership with us to borrow parts, and we don’t have a partnership with Air Italy.”

Air Italy
Air Italy launched just 15 months ago. Photo: Air Italy

Reading between the lines, this all boils down to a child refusing to share its toys because if doesn’t like the other child. Or, more accurately, doesn’t like the child’s uncle. Because this isn’t really about Air Italy, but Qatar Airways.

The spat between US carriers and Qatar Airways has been ongoing for some time. The US carriers don’t think it’s fair for Qatar to run fifth freedom routes to North America because, they allege, Qatar receives money from the government. They say that these subsidies allow Qatar to undercut them on price and make competition unfair.

Air Italy is owned 49% by Qatar Airways. The small Italian airline has only 13 planes, only five of which are long haul capable. All of their A330s are ex-Qatar aircraft, and the US carriers are worried that Qatar is trying to funnel more passengers to and from the US via the back door. They said that this was in violation of previous agreements which stated Qatari airlines would not launch any new flights to the US from outside the Persian Gulf. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told Business Insider,

“That didn’t seem within the spirit of the agreement; it seems like an absolute violation of the intent of the agreement. Yeah, we don’t think that’s right.”

Rossen Dimitrov
‘sad’ – Rossen Dimitrov. Photo: Air Italy

However, Air Italy have repeatedly denied that they are acting as a conduit for Qatar. In the same Corriere interview, Dimitrov said,

“It is sad what is happening: we are a small reality, we would like to collaborate with them, we are not enemies. We are not like they describe us… We are not the Trojan horse of Doha, we are not doing anything illegal”

The Air Italy CEO also alluded to forging a future partnership with an American carrier, although he would not say which one. Clearly, it’s not going to be American Airlines!