Emirates’ Dubai-Athens-New York flight violates U.S. aviation agreement, say U.S. airlines

An Emirates plane is seen at Lisbon's airport, Portugal June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Bloomberg — Emirates will begin a new daily route linking Dubai and the New York area via Athens, adding fuel to a dispute with US airlines over whether Persian Gulf carriers are unfairly flooding the skies with flights to the world’s largest aviation market.

The route will be Emirates’ second to arrive in the US after touching down in Europe, enabling the airline to pick up passengers thousands of miles from its home base in the United Arab Emirates. The flights are “commercially and operationally feasible,” the airline’s president, Tim Clark, said in a statement Monday.

The new route amps up a dispute with US rivals just as President Donald Trump takes office vowing to protect American jobs.

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines Group and United Continental Holdings had urged the Obama administration to hold formal talks with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, alleging that the countries provide billions of dollars of unfair subsidies to Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways PJSC.

 “By flagrantly violating its Open Skies agreement with the United States at the start of the Trump administration, Emirates is throwing down the gauntlet,” said Jill Zuckman, spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, the US airlines’ lobbying group on the issue. “We look forward to working with President Trump and his team to enforce these agreements and protect American jobs — something that the Obama administration failed to do.”

Delta operates a summer-only timetable from the Greek capital to New York’s John F Kennedy International airport. Delta sought to block Emirates’s flight through Milan to New York as part of its campaign against the growth of Gulf airlines it says have had unfair state support.

United and American will also offer summer services this year connecting Athens with Newark and Philadelphia respectively, according to the Skyscanner website.

Emirates said there is “strong consumer need” for the service on a route “long-neglected by other airlines.”

The US is home to the biggest overseas Greek community of 1.3 million people, and the New York metropolitan area has the largest group of Greek-Americans in the country, it said.

Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, will initiate the daily service between Dubai and Newark, New Jersey, on March 12 using a Boeing Co 777-300ER aircraft. The flights will be in addition to the carrier’s four daily frequencies between Dubai and JFK.

“The Greek government and Athens International Airport approached Emirates some time ago to consider serving the route,” Mr Clark said in a statement on Monday.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies doesn’t object to so-called “fifth-freedom” flights, in which airlines stop in foreign nations as they travel between their home countries and their final destination, Ms Zuckman said.

However, it does object to what it calls the Persian Gulf carriers’ subsidised expansion. Their governments have provided the Gulf carriers with more than US$40 billion in subsidies, enabling them to buy big fleets of international widebody jets, Delta, United and American have said.

Emirates is seeking to eke out new routes as the lower oil price weighs on travel in the Gulf and stuttering economies hurt global demand.

With most first-tier cities within an eight-hour flying radius already connected to Dubai, fifth-freedom services also provide access to more far-flung markets the carrier would otherwise be unable to access.

The United Arab Emirates has also been seeking to establish Budapest as a point for onward flights to the US.