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Delta Air Lines

Delta v. Air Italy’s “Mysterious Benefactor”

Delta v. Air Italy’s “Mysterious Benefactor”
Jeff Edwards

The cold war between U.S Airlines and Gulf carriers over what legacy carriers in the U.S. consider unfair government subsidies benefiting state-run airlines in the Gulf region, has heated up once again. This time, Delta CEO Ed Bastian is fuming over accusations of hidden Qatari subsidies allowing struggling Air Italy to undercut the competition.

After years of bickering back and forth and even resorting to personal attacks, it was just starting to seem as if a de facto détente was emerging between airline executives in the U.S. and their Gulf carrier counterparts. If the latest op-ed from Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian is any indication, however, the peace will be short-lived.

In a fiery opinion piece, the Delta chief railed against what he claims is an unfair and prohibited state subsidization of losses at Air Italy by the government of Qatar. Bastian has famously complained that airlines such as Qatar Airways rely on government funding to undercut competing airlines, Now, he says the Gulf state is using its ownership stake to gain an unfair advantage by propping up struggling Air Italy.

“Despite its financial hemorrhaging, the airline suddenly has a fleet of brand new jets, and has announced a major global expansion of flights between Milan and North American cities including New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto,” Bastian said of Air Italy’s stunning moves in recent months. “It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to solve this particular mystery. The airline’s benefactor is Qatar Airways, the government-owned airline of Qatar, which recently acquired 49 percent of Air Italy. Even though Qatar’s recent financial statements (which remain opaque) show that it is one of the worst performing airlines in the history of the airline industry with over $2 billion of operating losses over the past three years, Qatar has been giving its new acquisition billions of dollars’ worth of new airplanes, including Boeing 787 and 737 jets, with plans to deploy larger Boeing 777 and A350s as well.”

Earlier this year, Bastian had nothing but praise for Trump administration officials and representatives in the government of Qatar, following an agreement to help level the competitive playing field. “Today’s agreement by the State of Qatar is a strong first step in a process for commercial transparency and accountability, and we remain committed to working with the administration to address the harmful trade violations by the United Arab Emirates as well,” the Delta CEO said at the time.

Now, the powerful airline executive is singing a decidedly different tune.

Bastian asserts that the Qatari airline is using the virtually bankrupt Italian flag carrier to skirt a promise to not add so-called “Fifth Freedom” flights to provide non-stop service between Europe and North America in direct competition with U.S. airlines. He then all but demanded that U.S. officials step into the fray.

“Qatar is back to their old tricks, thumbing its nose at the Trump Administration with its clumsy scheme to get around its promises,” Bastain goaded. “These Italian routes, already highly competitive and well-served by existing carriers, are simply not economically viable without Qatari subsidies. By flooding these markets with subsidized capacity and dropping prices far below cost, Qatar is launching another assault on U.S. airline employees and travelers, and disrespecting the Administration.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (18)


  1. Cofyknsult

    December 24, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Looks like both Ed Bastian and the writer of this article are confusing Air Italy and Alitalia. While until recently a small airline called “Meridiana” and indeed making no or little profit, Air Italy has never been Italy’s flag carrier. That privilege (?!!) belongs to Alitalia which in spite of being in permanent bankrupcy for some thirty years and having “serious” (?!! again) airlines such as Etihad and Air France divesting themselves out, has managed to stay around on and on and on…, technically bankrupt, sometimes paying its employees late but still creating new uniforms for its staff. Don’t you just love Italy?

    As to the “unfair advantage” held by the ME3, has any of the US Majors attempted to fight them in the area of SERVICE?

  2. MaxVO


    December 24, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Nervous Bastian = good for travelers.

  3. cynosura

    December 27, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    He hates competition. MaxVO nailed it.

  4. BobFF68

    December 27, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    On the other side the real Italian flag carrier Alitalia partner of DL in Skyteam has been un-mysteriously subsidized (and still is) by Italian government with injection of billion of Euros for the last 15 years. Even more, DL could be one of potential investor/partner in the New Alitalia only after a consistent support (once more) of Italian public finances to clean up the old crap, but of course in thus case does not seem to be an issue for DL CEO.

  5. carnarvon

    December 28, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Cofyknsult is right.

    This article is nonsense.

  6. mwcatl2893

    December 28, 2018 at 4:30 am

    Bastian needs to understand that if Delta had a high quality, first class product like many Asian and Middle Eastern carriers, he would not have to worry about Qatar and other government subsidized carriers. I live in a Atlanta and abandoned Delta years ago for all my international travel because basically they suck. Cry-baby Bastian wants to force passengers to use Delta vs actually having to compete. Old airplanes, grumpy flight attendants and no First Class offering is what drives passengers to other airlines. Oh, and when Delta had to file for bankruptcy, what does he think this is? That is a form of government assistance and subsidy as well.

  7. alexmyboy

    December 28, 2018 at 5:50 am

    whoever smelta it delta it

  8. wbl-mn-flyer

    December 28, 2018 at 6:13 am

    More service and less tears, Delta.

  9. geminidreams

    December 28, 2018 at 6:15 am

    Qatar just bailed out Kushner from a major property default, dont expect the government to get involved.

  10. DGAT1989

    December 28, 2018 at 7:11 am

    I’m tired of DL’s cry baby position. DL does the same to their Atlanta customers–especially for international flights, by blocking out competing airlines. What is the only major hub in the USA that is not served by ANY discount carrier like WOW, Norwegian, etc.–yes ATL. Don’t know if this is a “handshake”: agreement, mutual control by DL and the ATL politicians who hold the strings or what!

  11. bstndance

    December 28, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Hmmm but his airline’s stakes in Virgin and Aeromexico are different I guess. ::eye roll::

  12. 2old4coach

    December 28, 2018 at 10:37 am

    It is quite unsettling for a CEO of a major air carrier to continue spout these half truths. Delta took millions of tax payer dollars when they off loaded the pension plan. Delta was basically established by US govenment air mail contracts and government protection. They do not buy Boeing aircraft made in the USA. They are making record profits.They are one of the worlds largest air carriers. Their partners as addressed above, are heavily funded by their governments. The ME 3 has a superior product that Delta cannot compete with, but they have few routes that they do compete on!
    I am a 1MM on Delta. However this BS has me flying Delta as a last resort.!
    Air Lies for America is Fake news! ” Cry Baby” id a fitting label for Delta and their cabal.

  13. Freeflyer54

    December 28, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    I rather fly direct with a foreign carrier than having to uses Delta’s hellhole JFK and somewhat better Atlanta. Don’t like to have to drag my luggage through customs before boarding to my final destination. Delta just started MCO -AMS where economy is $500 more than upgraded class on TUI with its modern Dreamliner.

    I fly a lot, and fly point to point whenever I can. Frontier and Allegiant have served me well so far.
    I used to fly Delta a lot but do not like hub and spoke .Too much risk of delay.

  14. PotomacApproach

    December 28, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    If this silly crybaby is worried about making money while flying 30 year old MD80s, 757s and 767s, then he really has a problem. Delta’s average plane is over 16 years old, or twice as old as the average JetBlue and Alaska plane, neither of whom they’ve been able to hurt financially. But as they say at Atlanta HQ, if you can’t beat ’em, start whining like a pathetic fool.

  15. Sabai

    December 29, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    Oh boo-hoo: The head of one of the 3 US airline cartels is complaining about unfair competition. Stick a sock in it Bastian.

  16. yabadoo

    December 30, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    The entire US airline industry was propped up by the US government from the 1930’s till President Carter eliminated the Civil Aeronautics Board. The regulatory period during this time while highly prescriptive, was also very generous to the airlines, allowing them to set and have approved high fares between routes that guaranteed them profit. During the period the CAB was in effect, only 1 airline declared bankruptcy in 50 years in the US. This system not only provided management with a rigged system of operating profitably but also provided then with sufficient funds to order large blockbuster aircraft orders (for the time anyway) with Boeing, Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas. The net result was a airlines having built their infrastructure and balance sheet strength due to the benefits received from US government. Once the CAB disappeared and deregulation came in full force, well we know what happened then. Point is, even Delta received the benefits of government intervention albeit indirectly for decades upon decades , which helped them become who they are today, so this is like Bastian forgetting Delta’s own history and the pot calling the kettle black.

  17. 6P&E

    January 3, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    DL rails against Qatar, smacks the Atlanta Fox theatre by ceasing its financial support for hosting the “Welcome to ATL’ bash when Qatar first came to ATL all the while buying mostly Airbus product rather than home-grown Boeing. DL- shut up.

  18. Bretteee

    January 4, 2019 at 12:33 am

    Cheaper fares and good service is what counts for the US consumer. And Delta’s partner Alitalia has lived from handouts for years in addition to Delta that was saved by the US consumer.

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