Delta Air to Exit U.S. Airline Trade Group on Policy Rifts

Delta Air Lines Inc. will leave the U.S. industry’s main trade group in 2016 after the world’s third-largest carrier staked out policy differences with several of its peers.

The move “was not unexpected as the carrier has not been aligned with other” members of Washington-based Airlines for America, the group’s chief executive officer, Nick Calio, said in a statement Tuesday. Delta didn’t agree with the group’s support for reorganizing the U.S. air traffic control system and removing it from federal oversight, A4A said.

Delta’s exit underscores the gap among U.S. airlines over competition from Persian Gulf carriers. The Atlanta-based airline has been the largest source of funds for lobbying against what it says are unfair government subsidies for the Gulf trio -- a stance backed by American Airlines Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. JetBlue Airways Corp. has supported expansion by the Middle East carriers.

“It makes some sense,” said George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting. “You’ve got quite a disparate group. It’s useful to have a trade group, but sometimes you have members going off in different directions.”

Delta also has differed with other A4A members over the U.S. Export-Import
Bank, lobbying Congress against renewal of the agency that provides low-
interest loans to help foreign carriers buy Boeing Co. wide-body aircraft to
compete on international routes.

Delta’s departure, and the loss of about $5 million the airline paid in annual dues, won’t affect the trade group’s staffing or the scope of its work, A4A spokeswoman Jean Medina said in an e-mail.

A4A hadn’t taken a strong stance in the Gulf carriers issue given the differing views among its members. Delta, American and United are asking the Obama administration to seek consultations with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar related to the issue as part of the Open Skies agreements the U.S. has with both states.

Delta’s annual A4A dues “can be better used to invest in employees and products to further enhance the Delta experience, and to support what we believe is a more efficient way of communicating in Washington on issues that are important to Delta customers and employees,” Kate Modolo, a Delta spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

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