Emirates’ partner JetBlue slams US carriers in Gulf expansion row

The CEO of New York airline JetBlue Airways – a partner of Emirates – has criticised the three largest US carriers for seeking to curb Gulf airlines’ expansion in the States.

According to reports from the US, Robin Hayes said on Monday that United, American and Delta airlines were acting like it was “the end of the world” that the largest Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, were seeking to expand their route networks in the US.

He accused the US airlines of “protectionism” and claimed they already hold a strong competitive advantage in the US aviation market.

Travel news website Skift said Hayes told the Aero Club of Washington that the ongoing dispute between the US and Gulf carriers was “the perfect illustration of how we see mega-carriers trying to use their muscle and deep pockets to limit competition”.

“The Big 3 act like it’s the end of the world,” he was quoted as saying. “Make no mistake, this battle is not about the US airline industry against airlines from the Middle East.

“We believe it’s three mega-US airlines who favour protectionism over competition.”

During his speech to the club, Hayes argued that United, American, Delta and Southwest airlines hold a “startling concentration of power” over US skies, with around 80 percent of domestic market share.

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes

This is making it tough for JetBlue to expand into the busiest airports of Los Angeles and Atlanta.

“It’s clearly a competitive landscape that is not hospitable to new models, new entrants, or smaller carriers,” Hayes said.

JetBlue is the seventh largest carrier in the US, operating around 700 daily flights within the US. It has a codeshare agreement with Emirates, and the two airlines also share loyalty deals.

Last year, the airline became the cause of deepening animosity between the the three largest US and Gulf carriers, after the US government was accused of breaching its own law by awarding federal contracts to JetBlue Airways on flights operated by Emirates.

The Fly America Act from 1981 says that all travel paid for by US government federal funds must be on a US carrier.

The government body that awarded the contracts responded by arguing that codeshares are permitted under the Fly America Act and that those awarded to JetBlue were done so on the basis that it offered cheaper fares than the three US airlines.

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