At least on the surface, Delta Air Lines didn’t get its wish this week for a yet another critical review of an aviation pact between the U.S. and Qatar, which the Atlanta-based carrier said is still being abused by Qatar’s state-run airline.
Civil aviation delegations from both sides met on the sidelines of a high-level strategic dialogue launched last January and taken up again this month. Led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the dialogue touched on defense collaboration, counterterrorism, educational exchange and much more.
Ahead of the meeting, U.S. senators including Georgia’s delegation had sent a letter to the State Department asking that the Trump administration once again consider whether the Qatar was skirting its commitments under an open skies agreement. Delta warned that Qatar Airways’ 49 percent stake in Air Italy and its planned flights from Milan to the U.S. could violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the “understandings” reached last year.
It’s unclear whether that was discussed specifically, but the State Department’s readout of the meetings noted that simply reaffirmed commitments reached last Jan. 30. Both sides had agreed to keep up the discussion and check in on progress.
The main issue is financial transparency. Delta says Qatar is losing money and is only able to expand thanks to billions of dollars in government subsidies. Delta has blamed subsidies to Middle Eastern carriers for keeping it out of key markets like India.
Qatar, which started a flight to Atlanta in 2016, denies the subsidy claims and says Delta is trying to compensate for inferior service. Most of its routes have no direct U.S. competition.
The full statement on the aviation meetings from the State Department:
Delegations from the two countries met separately to discuss civil aviation matters, during which they reaffirmed the commitments by both governments to financial transparency and to putting business with state-owned enterprises on commercial terms set out in the Understandings initially announced on January 30, 2018. Those Understandings sought to ensure healthy competition in the global aviation sector while preserving the Open Skies relationship between the United States and Qatar.