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Dutch pilots’ association VNV has hit out at Air France-KLM for wet-leasing freighters from Qatar Airways, claiming the Qatari carrier engages in anti-competitive practices.
In a letter to AF-KLM Cargo’s EVP, Marcel de Nooijer, the VNV demands an end to the arrangement and an explanation of how it came about.
The letter, seen by The Loadstar, notes: “The VNV has requested…Marcel de Nooijer to terminate the full-freighter capacity contract lease agreement with Qatar Airways.”
A spokesperson for AF-KLM confirmed to The Loadstar the airline had leased two B777 freighters from Qatar Airways, citing customer needs.
According to the spokesperson, each aircraft will operate consecutively for at least eight weeks during AF-KLM’s summer maintenance programme.
“A lease has been organised to guarantee the capacity during this period and to continue to serve our customers,” added the spokesperson. “After in-depth investigation, Qatar was the only airline able to provide the required capacities.”
However, the spokesperson declined to acknowledge receipt of the VNV’s letter. The VNV declined to provide further comment on the issue, other than to say it had yet to receive a response from AF-KLM.
However, one source told The Loadstar the issue had less to do with wet-leasing, following AF-KLM’s decision to cut back its freighter fleet, but was in fact about the airline the agreement had been struck with.
“AF-KLM reduced its own capacity so much so that many believe it should invest in additional capacity,” said the source. “Wet-leasing is always there as a second-best option, but wet-leasing a plane from a Middle East carrier is not an option under any circumstance.”
In the letter, VNV notes full freighter activities within the AF-KLM group had reduced “significantly” in recent years, leading to redundancies at Martinair. Alongside this, it cites the “large number” of unions in the aviation sector and airlines (including AF-KLM) working towards restoring a “global level playing field”.
“Qatar Airways absolutely does not comply with this, because in recent years it has received billions of euros in improper state support,” states the letter. “We do not want to accept the fight against unfair competition on the one hand and hire the textbook of unfair competition on the other.”
Earlier this year, the EU sought to address concerns raised by European operators over the unfair advantage Middle Eastern carriers received by way of state subsidies. In March, the European Parliament voted in favour of legislation 868, which would see airlines benefiting from unfair competitive practices have their rights to flights blocked.
The EU lawmaker steering the bill through, Markus Pieper, told Reuters: “The pressure from highly subsidised third country carriers is increasingly noticeable. It potentially undermines a level playing field in the market, at the expense of European airlines.
“Particularly carriers from the Gulf region, Turkey, China and Russia have strong state connections which can cause market distortions.”
However, a spokesperson for the VNV said while the legislation would help, it had yet to come into effect, leaving the association with little alternative but to go direct to the carrier.