Point/Counterpoint: Open Skies

August 9, 2017

International air travel in and out of the United States more than doubled since 1990. Coinciding with that growth, the United States negotiated over 100 agreements with other countries opening up each party’s borders to the other’s airlines. These “Open Skies” agreements are usually negotiated with one country at a time, resulting in a patchwork of different rules and regulations across the globe.

The Open Skies relationship between the United States and two Middle Eastern countries—Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—is particularly contentious right now. Major U.S. airlines maintain the heavy direct subsidies from those two governments to their national airlines violates the Open Skies agreements and creates an unfair environment for them to compete for global customers. Others argue the U.S. government has long provided both direct and indirect subsidies to domestic airlines, made even more complicated through global alliances between carriers.

This week, we have two unique perspectives on this highly-charged debate:

Jim Burnley was U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan. Today he is a partner at Venable LLP, an adviser to American Airlines, and the Chair of the Eno Center for Transportation’s Board of Directors. His op-ed is a call-to-action for the federal government to enforce the Open Skies agreements with those two countries, as others around the world have done.

Rui Neiva is a policy analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation.  In his piece he points out the myriad ways countries subsidize their airlines, often to the benefit of U.S. airlines. He calls for greater transparency and uniformity in order to better understand each country’s competitive starting point.

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