Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Etihad Ducks Trump Clash With Pledge Not to Add U.S. Routes

  • Hogan says Abu Dhabi carrier is happy with existing network
  • U.S. rivals had previously campaigned to stem Gulf growth

Etihad Airways PJSC sought to head off the prospect of further clashes over its U.S. expansion now that Donald Trump is president, saying it has no plans to add destinations beyond those already served.

“We are not flying into any further points in the U.S.A.,” Etihad Aviation Group Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We are very comfortable with our American network.”

Should U.S. airlines revive claims that Mideast carriers have benefited from illegal aid now that Trump is in the White House, Etihad stands ready to reassert that it has expanded fairly and operates trans-Atlantic services strictly in line with an Open Skies aviation treaty, Hogan said in Abu Dhabi.

“In regards to how that’s addressed moving forward, we have to wait and see,” said Hogan, who plans to step down later this year. “You can only work with the issues that are in front of you. If those issues are raised again we will tackle them.”

Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, which represents U.S. carriers and labor groups, said in response to Hogan’s comments that Etihad could still grow it’s American capacity on existing routes while remaining true to the CEO’s word, adding that the carrier’s market exposure is in any case already too great.

‘Meaningless’

“This meaningless pledge will not stop Etihad from continuing to add subsidy-fueled flights to the U.S. markets they already serve,” the Washington-based lobby group said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. “Hogan appears to think that the U.S. should be willing to accept the status quo and just move on. He’s wrong. The U.S. should not tolerate this rule-breaking, bad behavior.”

Hogan spoke after announcing catering and maintenance deals with Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which had previously led European criticism of Persian Gulf carriers. The German group’s CEO, Carsten Spohr, told a press conference that the companies continue to hold “different perspectives” on some topics and restated his opposition to state aid, while saying they will be “putting these differences aside” to build a closer alliance.

Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. all lobbied the former administration of Barack Obama to limit operations by Etihad, Qatar Airways and Emirates, saying they received a collective $42 billion in subsidies and other unfair benefits. In June, the State Department said it would hold informal talks with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar over claims the Persian Gulf nations gave unfair subsidies to the state-owned airlines.

Partnership for Open & Fair Skies cited Jan. 23’s announcement that Dubai-based Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul carrier, will fly from Athens to Newark, New Jersey, using so-called fifth-freedom rights as adding “insult to injury” on “just the third day of Donald Trump’s presidency.”

Etihad currently serves New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the U.S., according to its website, and like other Gulf carriers says the services help support thousands of American jobs while providing competition that brings down fares.

“It’s about connectivity, its about jobs, its about economic contribution,” Hogan said after the Lufthansa press event. “It shouldn’t be about politics.”

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