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When President Trump stands up for Open Skies, America is rewarded


rAt the recent CAPA Americas Aviation Summit, a panel of renowned aviation industry professionals took the stage to discuss the future of one of the most important global aviation topics of our time: Open Skies agreements. While the casual traveler might not have ever even heard of this subject, Open Skies has a profound effect on all of us who have ever traveled to a foreign country or would like to in the future.

We sign these agreements with other countries to ensure the rights of U.S. airline carriers to access these new markets, and vice-versa with the countries we’ve partnered with. Since 1992, when the United States signed its first Open Skies agreement with the Netherlands, we have negotiated over 120 of these agreements, and that number continues to grow to this day. A 2018 Open Skies agreement signed with Brazil and a forthcoming post-Brexit agreement between the U.S. and the U.K. further signal the United States’ ongoing commitment to this approach.

Yet, while Open Skies has cemented its place in the modern international aviation system, this longstanding U.S. policy has still come under attack. Some of America’s biggest airlines have mounted opposition to specific agreements signed with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, our Open Skies partners in the Gulf. By targeting Open Skies agreements, these U.S. carriers are aiming to limit competition, which is the hallmark of a market-based economy. There is always a winner in competition – the consumer. 

Thankfully, President Trump and his administration weren’t having it. Knowing bilateral Open Skies agreements provide bilateral benefits that are worth protecting, the United States has continued to expand its Open Skies policy. We would be sending the wrong message if we allowed fears of competition to dictate American diplomacy on this matter.

That’s why the State Department sat down with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in January and May of last year to sign Records of Discussion that renew America’s commitment to this relationship. This understanding allows our Gulf partners to continue adding flights to the United States – the kinds of flights that, in 2016, generated some $7.8 billion in spending by visitors to the United States.

However, it also signifies a commitment to preserving the benefits that aviation liberalization provide to American workers from all walks of life. The White House’s statement after signing the Record of Discussion with the UAE recognized that upholding this agreement would “benefit pilots, flight attendants, machinists, and other working men and women in America’s airline industry.”

This isn’t overstating things in the slightest, either. When new American routes are established overseas, all of these groups are impacted in the process and reap the economic benefits. It’s also why Delta, American, and United are by and large alone in their position on Open Skies. They don’t have the support of other aviation industry stakeholders, including other U.S. legacy carriers like Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

While there is little doubt that the large American carriers will continue trying to limit their competition, we can rest assured that President Trump and his cabinet have and will continue to take the side of economic growth and job creation by standing firmly in support of Open Skies.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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