Emirates Airline's planned Athens-to-Newark flight rekindles tensions with U.S. rivals

Mideast Dubai Emirates
Emirates Airline is to begin a daily flight between Dubai and Newark with a stop in Athens. U.S. airlines say Persian Gulf carriers' subsidies breach "Open Skies" deals.

When Emirates Airline announced plans this week for a new daily direct flight between its Dubai hub and Newark Liberty International Airport, with a stop for passengers in Athens, U.S airlines rekindled their arguments that Persian Gulf carriers compete unfairly because they receive billions in subsidies that breach "Open Skies" agreements.

The Emirates flight will begin March 12 and will be the first nonstop year-round direct route to Greece since 2012 from the United States. Currently, U.S. airlines fly directly to the Greek capital only in the summer.

American Airlines flies from Philadelphia International Airport to Athens from May through October. United Airlines operates summer service from Newark to Greece, and Delta Air Lines flies in the summer from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

Emirates president Tim Clark said there was "a strong consumer need" for the route "long neglected by other airlines."

The flights are allowed under Open Skies agreements with the governments of United Arab Emirates and Qatar. American, Delta, United, and labor unions had asked the Obama administration to renegotiate or scale back Open Skies treaties or flight rights with Persian Gulf competitors.

Major U.S airlines say that state-owned Gulf carriers have received $50 billion in subsidies and benefits from their home governments, creating an unfair advantage over U.S. carriers that operate without such subsidies.

Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, which flies daily between the Qatari capital of Doha and Philadelphia, have denied the claims, suggesting that U.S. airlines have lost passengers because of inferior service.

The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, a lobbying group formed to speak for the U.S. airlines, responded to Emirates' route to Newark. "For every international flight that U.S. airlines are forced to close due to subsidy-fueled Gulf carrier expansion, economists estimate that over 1,500 American jobs are lost," said spokeswoman Jill Zuckman. "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."

Not everyone wants to freeze Gulf carriers' passenger routes, which bring economic benefits and new flights to U.S. cities, as well as aircraft orders for companies such as Boeing.

The Persian Gulf airlines are supported in this matter by smaller U.S. carriers, including JetBlue and Alaska airlines, cargo companies such as FedEx Corp., aircraft and engine manufacturers, the U.S. Travel Association, and the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor.

"The Greek government and Athens International Airport approached Emirates some time ago to consider serving the route between Athens and New York," Emirates president Clark said.

The United States is home to 1.3 million Greek Americans, the largest overseas Greek community in the world, and the New York City metropolitan area has this country's largest community of Greek Americans.

"After careful review, Emirates concluded" that connecting Dubai with Newark via Athens all year round "would be commercially and operationally feasible," Clark said. Emirates will operate Boeing 777-3oo aircraft with 354 seats and "ample cargo capacity."