Bad blood between U.S. legacy airlines and Gulf carriers has, at times, turned ugly, but aviation experts are suggesting that American Airlines’ controversial decision to refuse to lend a critical part to Air Italy to get a delayed flight and hundreds of passengers on their way is a new low in the long-running dispute over accusations of undeclared subsidies from oil-rich countries.
The dispute between U.S. airlines and Gulf carriers has been punctuated by name-calling, accusations of double-dealing, aggressive rhetoric and the occasional threat of sanctions. Lately, it appears that Air Italy has increasingly become a pawn in this ugly feud.
In December, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian wrote a blistering op-ed, all but accusing Qatar Airways (which owns a 49 percent stake in the Italian carrier) of funneling money from government coffers to keep Air Italy afloat and unfairly competing with U.S. Airlines. The Delta chief isn’t one to mince words.
“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 complained. “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.”
Now, it appears that American Airlines officials are eager to jump into the fray and, in this case, actions are speaking louder than words. Citing Italian newspaper accounts, the Boarding Area’s Gary Leff reports that an Air Italy flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) on Saturday was delayed by nearly 35 hours, in part, because American Airlines refused to sell the airline a part that it had on hand.
“One of our aircraft was damaged in San Francisco and could not leave without the spare part,” Air Italy COO Rossen Dimitrov told reporters. “Our ground aide asked American Airlines if they had that piece, they had it and when we asked for it they refused to send it to us and our plane was stopped for some time.”
In most industries, declining to help the competition would just be considered good business, but as Leff points out, in this case, the decision breaks with a longstanding tradition of assisting other airlines in a bind – especially in situations involving safety or operational concerns. American Airlines comes across as more than a little spiteful under the circumstances.
Of course, there are plenty of less vengeance-based reasons the world’s largest airline would refuse to sell a desperately needed part to a much smaller foreign carrier. Leff reports that American Airlines officials confirm the incident, but said that it needed the part in question for “upcoming scheduled maintenance.” The airline also said, however, that it would not sell parts to Air Italy under any circumstances, noting the absence of an “approved carrier” partnership agreement.
[Featured Image: Wikimedia/ Simone Previdi]