Dubai's Emirates Airline on Tuesday called U.S. competitors' criticism of Persian Gulf airlines' business practices "inaccurate assertions, outright distortions, and legal misrepresentations" of the Open Skies aviation agreement.
Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, spoke to reporters after meeting with state, transportation, and commerce officials in Washington to rebut claims by U.S. legacy carriers Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and American Airlines that Emirates unfairly benefited from $6.8 billion in subsidies from the United Arab Emirates.
State-owned Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways are among the fastest-growing airlines in the world.
Qatar operates a daily flight between the Qatari capital of Doha and Philadelphia, and announced last month that Philadelphia would be the first U.S. airport to get its larger Airbus A350 XWB in January.
"Philadelphia was always one of the cities we had in the frame of the 20 cities that we were looking at," Clark said, speaking at the National Press Club. "We have had engagement with them. I won't mention names or dates when this took place, but there have been many," he said, referring to discussions with airport officials.
"They have been hugely supportive of not only our presence, but also our position with regard to this particular issue," Clark said. "Many cities have come to Emirates and asked us to operate. Those cities, along with Philadelphia, would be hugely supportive if we said to them 'We're going to fly to your city.' "
Mayor Nutter said, "We are pleased with the possibility that Emirates Airline is considering service to Philadelphia International Airport. We have long sought to expand new international routes. That has been a top priority of my administration.
"We have been talking with Emirates for several years, as well as other carriers, about new international service here, and our interest remains high," Nutter said.
In January, Delta, United, and American launched a lobbying effort to freeze new passenger routes to the United States by the Gulf carriers. In March, the airlines released a 55-page white paper asserting that Gulf airlines had benefitted from $42 billion in illegal aid from their governments since 2004.
Emirates on Tuesday issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations, in a 300-plus-page report.
"We have not only negated the accusations with regard to subsidies against us, but also set out to show how we have added value to the U.S. economy, to job and wealth creation," Clark said.
The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, a group formed to speak for the U.S. airlines, said in a statement: "Emirates can submit as many pages as it wants" but cannot "paper over" the allegations that it received "billions" in subsidies and unfair benefits, allowing it to expand "far beyond what market forces could ever support."
Clark said the U.S. carriers themselves had benefitted from more than $100 billion in government support since 2002, including relief from pension obligations and other debt in bankruptcies, grants, and loan guarantees, grandfathering of airport slots, and tax exemptions since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"They come to this debate, I'm afraid to say, with unclean hands," he said.
The true goal was protection from competition, he said. "It is not about trade, subsidies, fairness, or jobs. Rather, what the legacy carriers really seek is even more government support - this time in the form of protection from international competition."
Delta, United, and American are supported by their pilot unions and European airlines, including Air France-KLM and Lufthansa AG, which favor curbing Gulf competition.
The Persian Gulf airlines are supported by smaller U.S. carriers, including JetBlue and Alaska airlines, cargo companies such as FedEx Corp., aircraft and engine manufacturers, and the U.S. Travel Association and Business Travel Coalition in Radnor.
"The legacy carriers have framed their complaint in terms of their narrow commercial interest," Clark said. "Open Skies policy embraces goals such as greater competition, increased flight frequency, more consumer choice, promotion of business travel and tourism, improved service, and innovation."
Dubai-based Emirates operates 84 flights a week to nine U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington. Emirates will begin flights to Orlando in September.