Concerns about 'protectionism' in airline industry

Miami – The hot debates at the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Industry Association (Iata) in Miami were the issue of competitiveness and liberalisation.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker made it clear at the end of the first session that he is concerned about issues like calls for protectionism in the industry.

“Any rollback on liberalisation of the skies could have a retaliatory impact,” warned Al Baker.
He especially mentioned the US and Europe in this regard.

The issue relates to the large growth of some airlines in the Gulf region of the Middle East, which some US carriers are questioning because of concerns that they can “flood” every market.

Some concern has been expressed in the industry in the US and Europe about these state owned Gulf airlines and their ability to grow so fast, hinting that the airlines are potentially getting direct help from their respective governments, thus creating an uneven playing field.

“This is a public policy issue and is not about protectionism, but about being able to compete against airlines and not against governments,” emphasised Doug Parker, chair of the American Airlines Group at a subsequent briefing.

He said the US government is studying the matter.

When Tony Tyler, CEO of Iata was questioned about the organisation’s role in the matter, he repeatedly said that Iata should be common ground for all members to dedicate and improve safety and operational efficiency.

“Value is created from competitiveness and working together.  Government leadership is key for the aviation industry to grow economically and transparency and consultation within the industry are important. Regulation needs to be smarter and benefits must outweigh costs,” said Tyler.

“Iata is a common ground where we can all move forward on common interests, because value can be added by working together. Iata is in favour of a free and open playing field and in this regard governments have an important role to play.”

He admitted, however, that there is an underlying tension in the industry between government-owned airlines and privately owned airlines.

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