Emirates airline is determined to push ahead with an ambitious route expansion programme, in the US and elsewhere, despite the campaign by some US aviation groups to curtail its growth under open skies agreements.
Tim Clark, the Emirates president, told The National that the airline is considering plans to open new routes to American cities from Dubai, as well as flying new routes from European airports under the "fifth freedom" rights of the open skies agreements with the American authorities.
The fifth freedom allows airlines to fly routes outside their own home airports, as Emirates does with the Milan to New York flight that it began in October 2013.
“Expand further from European hubs into the US? Yes, we might do that,” Mr Clark said. “The kind of abuse we’ve been getting might cause us to do it. And after Milan, we can see how profitable it is. If the Danes or the Swedes were to come to us and say ‘we haven’t got enough flights to the US, would you consider it?’ Yes we might do that.”
Such a move would significantly raise the temperature in the simmering war of words between the North American lobby – including the big three airlines, American, Delta and United – and the main Arabian Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
The Americans have accused the three of being unfairly subsidised by their governments, and are seeking action by the American authorities to halt open skies agreements in place for the past 15 years.
“We haven’t [considered further US routes from Europe] until now, but an awful lot of people in Europe want to fly to the other hemisphere,” Mr Clark said. “Not just the USA, but Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. We might say to Richard Anderson [chief executive of Delta] that we’re just going to do what the US government wanted back in 1999, to go transatlantic and transpacific with fifth freedom open skies.”
He declined to identify which US cities Emirates was considering flying to, but said: “The troika [of US airlines] asked for a freeze on our expansion in the US, but it’s not their place to do it. Why should we stop our expansion? Orlando has been knocking on our door for a long time, and as soon as we opened that route the mayor of Miami went nuclear, wanting us to fly there too.
"Places like Denver and Fort Lauderdale would love to have Emirates flying there, because when you come into those kinds of airports you bring half of the Middle East and Africa with you. There are multiple entities in the US who are sick and tired of the troika," he added.
Mr Clark’s stance will raise the stakes ahead of the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association, the global airlines trade body, in Miami, Florida next month. The open skies spat is expected to top the agenda at the meeting, sponsored by American Airlines and other US transportation companies. “We expect some action there,” Mr Clark said.
The Emirates president has not scaled back the airline's global ambitions in light of the US attack. "Sure we see America as one of our markets, but we see the planet as our market. Our ambition is only limited by the capacity of this hub at Dubai International Airport and the new one at Al Maktoum airport, and together those are pretty big," he said.
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