If there is one thing you can be sure of it’s the unwillingness of American carriers to put up with competitors. Air Italy, which is only 49% owned by Qatar Airways, was yesterday targeted by Hector Munoz, CEO of United, who during a press call announcing a major international route expansion from its hub at San Francisco, singled out the tiny Italian airline as nothing more than an extension of Qatar Airways.
The airline which is one of the few options for Italians out of Milan, a major business and tourist destination relatively poorly served by airlines generally, especially since the near collapse of Alitalia, has been expanding following the investment of Qatar Airlines.
This sort of business is not new. Delta has done exactly the same with Virgin Atlantic, effectively getting round ownership restrictions by using its proxies at AirFrance-KLM to buy into the airline with money effectively transferred from Delta through a share purchase in AF-KLM.
This is just one more attempt at stifling any competition from European airlines into the main hubs of airlines like United.
Munoz was busy announcing new or expanded routes from SFO to Delhi, Melbourne, Tahiti, and Amsterdam amongst others.
Analysts were quick to point out that nowhere in the Qatar/UAE/US Open Skies, nor in the agreements made in May this year, does it prevent fifth freedom flights from other countries, not that Air Italy flights are categorised as that anyway. This was simply PR language used by the US airlines to make it look like they’d won something they cannot actually prevent, not that it’s actually happening!
Expect the PR war to mount as the USB3 are unlikely to let it drop.