Gulf carriers are targeting more US routes after United Airlines axed flights between Washington and Dubai.
It effectively marks the end of direct flights by US carriers into the country apart from some existing codeshare agreements.
The decision reopened old wounds as United blamed its decision on the rampant growth of “subsidised” carriers from the region.
“The withdrawal from the region by the US carriers only highlights that they really cannot compete,” said Addison Schonland, a founder of US-based commercial aviation consultancy AirInsight. “Even at lower fares, it is likely they are outclassed in terms of service and product, with customers buying the better service offering given the long range of these flights.”
Delta said in October it would end its flights from Atlanta to Dubai, accusing regional carriers of dumping capacity in the US.
This latest exit comes after the US government awarded a contract to transport government employees and military personnel bound for Dubai, to Jet Blue Airways.
Although the airline does not fly to Dubai, it has a codeshare with Emirates which will allow Jet Blue to use the Dubai carrier’s aircraft.
“Even though we successfully operated the Washington-Dubai route for the past seven years, the entry of subsidised carriers such as Emirates airline and Etihad Airways into the Washington, DC market has created an imbalance between supply and demand to the UAE,” United said in a statement published in US media.
“As they’ve added subsidised capacity, our Washington-Dubai route has become less profitable.”
Gulf airlines have been accused by US and European rivals of benefitting from unfair subsidies - a claim the big regional carriers have rebutted.
Emirates and Etihad Airways have added huge capacity to the US over the past year, flying to cities that include Atlanta, LA, Boston and Orlando.
The withdrawal of United from the Washington creates even more potential for the big three Gulf carriers to fill the gap.
“It is a good route; I don’t know why they want to pull out,” said Adel Ahmad Al Redha, Emirates chief operations officer. “For sure there’s a good capacity for Emirates and everybody, because there is a demand from Washington to Dubai,” he added.
Now Qatar Airways is also preparing to boost its traffic to the US starting with Los Angeles on December 1 and followed by Boston and Atlanta.
Gulf carriers are now engaged in lobbying wars on two fronts after the European Commission this week published a new aviation strategy and raised concerns over the way airlines from the region operate in Europe.
The planned strategy poses a potential threat to Gulf airlines who fear it could curb their expansion there by centralising air agreements that have historically been negotiated on a bilateral basis.
But the chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, has cast doubt on whether the proposals would win the support of EU governments.
“I already know five countries that have told us that they will not back this,” he said in an interview with Reuters in New York.
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