Chiefs of Etihad and Emirates deny any wrong doing in ‘open skies’ row

Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, said on Tuesday night that the airline had received “no subsidy in cash or in kind” from the Dubai government, contrary to allegations made by US airlines in a campaign against Arabian Gulf carriers.

He was speaking after two days of meetings with US department of trade and state department officials to discuss calls by three US carriers – American, Delta and United – to change “open skies” aviation policy in light of what they claim are unfair and anti-competitive business practices by Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

Mr Clark said that the meeting with US officials had been “very productive” but declined to go into detail.

A combative Mr Clark said that the airline would “respond to all the allegations, and we’ll do that in a manner that will rebut all of them. Then I hope we will get an apology from the people who have made them.”

He said that Emirates would provide a line-by-line response to the US allegations. “Give us some time to do so, but we don’t need a lot of time. Watch this space,” he said.

On one specific allegation – that Emirates had been “bailed out” to the tune of $4bn by the Dubai government when fuel options had moved against the airline in 2009 – he responded: “Tosh. It will be easy to respond to that. I can say now that some of the figures and the conclusions drawn from them are incorrect.”

Mr Clark also repeated his promise to resign if any of the subsidy allegations were proved. “I wont have to resign, because the allegations are incorrect and we’ll show that they are incorrect,” he said.

He left open the option of legal action against the US airlines if it was proved Emirates had suffered losses as a result of the allegations.

Earlier in the day, James Hogan, chief executive of Etihad, told leaders of the global aviation industry that the “secrets” of the airline’s rapid growth were customer service, modern aircraft, competitive fares and attractive routes.

It was the first public response from the Abu Dhabi airline since US rivals launched their campaign, which Mr Hogan said was a threat to competitive choice for millions of US and other air passengers.

He said open skies has been a model of success that has generated “enormous benefits” for travellers and airlines both in the US and the UAE.

“Etihad is a David, a David who’s been facing Goliaths since 2003, when we started. In virtually every market we’ve entered, we’ve had to face existing competitors, with established businesses, established infrastructure, established sales and marketing, established brands, and established customer bases,” he said.

“In many cases, those established airlines were gifted amazing infrastructure – airports, terminals, slots, landing rights – over decades. To take them on, we’ve had to work harder and we’ve had to work smarter. That’s called competition.”

Mr Hogan said that Etihad had delivered 180,000 passengers on to the networks of US airlines last year, and 50,000 in the first two months of this year.

“Our commitment to the US economy supports more than 200,000 jobs,” he said.

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