The president of a tourism association in California has backed Gulf carriers in the ongoing dispute with US rivals over alleged subsidies and violations of the Open Skies pact.
Ed Fuller, president and CEO of Orange County Visitors Association (OCVA) of California, declared his support during a recent visit to the UAE.
The visit was made as part of a promotional push to attract increased visitors from the UAE and surrounding Gulf States to Orange County.
Fuller said: “Orange County California is the first tourism organization from the USA to reach out and have a permanent presence in the Middle East, and so the Open Skies debate is of natural concern and interest to Orange County.
"I feel it important to make it categorically clear that Open Skies benefits US consumers enormously with expanded options for international travel while facilitating growth for the US economy and job creation”.
Orange County California opened its promotional Middle East office in Dubai in April 2014, and since then has been rolling out a number of holiday packages and promotions specifically created for Middle East travelers.
“Orange County is just a 45 minute drive south from Los Angeles airport where Emirates, Saudi Arabia Airlines, and Etihad Airways each fly directly from their Middle Eastern hubs. Emirates and Etihad flight crews choose to stay at Orange County hotels during lay-overs and Qatar Airways also provides convenient connection to Orange County’s own John Wayne Airport via its US destinations,” said Fuller.
A record 74 million foreign visitors entered the United States in 2014, bringing with them a record spend of $181 billion. Travel generates $2.1 trillion annually for the US economy and supports one out of every nine US jobs.
Fuller added: “The Big Three US airlines want our government to break a number of Open Skies agreements in order to keep certain carriers from expanding in US markets... The OC believes that on this matter, the US carriers have got it wrong."
Open Skies agreements are essentially free trade for air travel, prohibiting countries from regulating routes and capacity among each other’s carriers.
The US airlines’ complaint is rooted in $42 billion in subsidies they allege the three Gulf carriers have received from their governments and that these subsidies violate the Open Skies agreements with those countries. These claims are denied by the Gulf airlines.
Fuller said: “We all want the US carriers to succeed financially. Air travel is far too integral a part of our economy to think about the alternative. Open Skies agreements have benefitted our industry and consumers as well as communities around the world for more than 30 years now. Orange County California supports the continuation of Open Skies.
"Orange County supports a policy that allows for increased flights to and from Southern California by all carriers, including the Gulf carriers of Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways.”