JetBlue urges new administration not to crack down on Gulf airlines

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The CEOs of JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, FedEx and Atlas Air fired back at the legacy U.S. carriers in the reheated open skies dispute Tuesday, penning letters of their own to secretary of state Rex Tillerson and secretary of transportation Elaine Chao.

The move comes less than a week after the CEOs of American, United and Delta wrote Tillerson to ask for a meeting to discuss their grievances against Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

In Tuesday's letters, the JetBlue, Hawaiian, FedEx and Atlas CEOs, writing as the four members of U.S. Airlines for Open Skies, asked Tillerson and Chao to preserve open skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and in so doing, to look askance at the request of the legacy carriers for a freeze on new U.S. routes for the Gulf carriers.

The letter echoes language that U.S. Airlines for Open Skies used in a December letter to the vice president-elect, Mike Pence. Freezing routes, the CEOs said, would be a violation of open skies agreements and be harmful to consumers.

"It would reduce competition not only on international routes where the legacy carriers and their joint-venture partners already predominate, but also in the domestic market by stemming the flow of passengers into the United States that has enabled smaller U.S. airlines to expand service and compete with the legacy carriers," the letter reads.

The Big 3 carriers accuse Emirates, Etihad and Qatar of accepting more than $50 billion in illegal state subsidies since 2004. The Gulf carriers deny the allegation.

Acceptance of the subsidies, the Big 3 say, has allowed the Gulf carriers to launch routes that otherwise wouldn't be viable. As a result, they say, American, Delta and United have halted routes, costing American jobs.

The open skies dispute has ramped up since Trump, who ran on a protectionist platform, took office.

An Emirates announcement last month that it would begin flights between Newark and Athens, with continuing service to its Dubai hub, further fueled the debate.

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