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US cargo airlines have again voiced their support for Gulf carriers in the face of a concerted effort by US legacy operators to disrupt the Open Skies agreement.

Lobbying as US Airlines for Open Skies (USAOS), Atlas Air, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue wrote to secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of transportation Elaine Chao to express their support for Open Skies and their concern at threats to it.

“The Open Skies policy is unquestionably one of the most successful economic and diplomatic initiatives in American history,” said the group.

“Coupled with domestic airline deregulation, it has greatly expanded access, stimulating extraordinary economic growth in the process; it has produced record profits for both passenger and cargo; and it has created jobs for American workers at home and abroad.”

The letter, signed by chief executives including FedEx’s Fred Smith and and Atlas Air’s Bill Flynn, followed what it calls a “disinformation campaign” against the policy.

Last week, Qatar Airways was forced to respond to what it called “false accusations” over its shareholding in Air Italy: suggestions that its 49% stake in the carrier was not compliant with the US-Qatar Open Skies agreement.

Qatar said: “The ‘Big 3’ US carriers have consistently demonstrated their hostility to new entrants into the US-Europe market.

“Their attacks on Air Italy, based on the identity of its minority shareholder, are just another manifestation of this hostility… Air Italy, the carrier the ‘Big 3’ cite as a major ‘threat’ to their survival, has a fleet of just 15 and only serves one US city, New York, with a daily service.”

The letter from USAOS warns that should the US breach its agreement with Qatar by restricting Air Italy flights, it could expect a “rapid unravelling of hard fought” rights globally.

“Closing access will be a punishment that brings higher prices and fewer choices for American travellers, consumers and shippers, and would invite retaliation against US airlines that have used Open Skies to build thriving global networks.

“For JetBlue, which just announced its intention to begin service to London from NYC and Boston in 2021, the possibility of retaliation could have a devastating impact.”

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