Air Italy dragged into aviation war between US and the Gulf

The former Meridiana carrier, now 49% controlled by Qatar Airways, is in fact under the lens of 11 US Republican Senators asking to investigate the airline for violation of agreements between the United States and Qatar on “fifth freedom” flights. In a letter sent by the senators headed by Ted Cruz last December 3 and addressed to Mike Pompeo (US State Department), Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) and Wilbur Ross (Commerce Department) explicitly asks the White House for an investigation into the fact that Air Italy is used by Qatar to circumvent the agreement, signed at the beginning of 2018, which predicts that Qatar Airways will operate only direct connections to the US, renouncing those with some port in Europe.

The fifth freedom flights, for example, are the same operated by Emirates with the Dubai-Milan-New York or Dubai-Athens-New York routes. So the senators’ accusation is that for which Qatar would be financing the routes of Air Italy to circumvent the agreement.

The Milan-New York flight, for example, is considered “questionable from a commercial point of view” given that already five carriers, of which three are US companies, operate the same route (United Airlines, Delta, American Airlines, Alitalia, Emirates) .The senators believe, therefore, that Qatar is adding seats and flights on routes already very crowded thanks to its subsidiary Air Italy and without a real market need.

The letter addressed to the White House, moreover, highlights how a company that offered domestic flights, charter and some long-haul season has become a real company specialized in flights to the USA.

“All this economic effort would not be sustainable for Qatar Airways, so it is conceivable that the funding is directly the state ones of Qatar”, suggests the letter. The latter point, therefore, would be under close scrutiny by the Trump administration, which had signed the agreement with Qatar precisely to defuse forms of state aid to distort competition on routes to Europe and the Middle East.

Even more suspicious US politicians – and the three US airlines that support them (Delta, American and United) – is the next launch for the next season of connections from Milan to Los Angeles and San Francisco, presented just last week. The Doha summits had already rejected last spring the accusation launched by American Airlines and the other two airlines.

«Qatar Airways does not use Air Italy as an alternative way to take passengers from Doha to the USA – had told the CEO Akbar Al Baker in an interview with Corriere della Sera – We do not even have codeshare flights with Air Italy over Europe and not we even thought about it “.Air Italy is an Italian company registered in Italy and controlled by the Aqa Holding, whose shares belong to 51% to Alisarda and 49% to Qatar Airways.