Orange County confirms support for open skies
ABU DHABI, June 3, 2015
Ed Fuller, president and CEO of Orange County Visitors Association (OCVA) of California, US, declared Orange County’s support for Open Skies while visiting the UAE last week.
The visit was made as part of a promotional push to attract increased visitors from the UAE and surrounding Gulf States to Orange County (OC).
Fuller said: “Orange County California is the first tourism organization from the US to reach out and have a permanent presence in the Middle East, and so the Open Skies debate is of natural concern and interest to Orange County. I feel it important to make it categorically clear that Open Skies benefits US consumers enormously with expanded options for international travel while facilitating growth for the US economy and job creation”.
Orange County California opened its promotional Middle East office in Dubai in April 2014, and since then has been rolling out a number of holiday packages and promotions specifically created for Middle East travellers. As a result, the awareness and number of Gulf State visitors to the Southern California destination has been rising significantly.
“Orange County is just a 45 minute drive south from Los Angeles airport where Emirates, Saudi Arabia Airlines, and Etihad Airways each fly directly from their Middle Eastern hubs. Emirates and Etihad flight crews choose to stay at Orange County hotels during lay-overs and Qatar Airways also provides convenient connection to Orange County’s own John Wayne Airport via its US destinations. With the launch of these flights and our Middle Eastern promotional activities we have seen considerable increases in visitor numbers and visitor spend within the OC”, said Fuller.
A record 74 million foreign visitors entered the US in 2014, bringing with them a record spend of $181 billion. Travel generates $2.1 trillion annually for the US economy and supports one out of every nine US jobs.
“The Big Three US airlines want our government to break a number of Open Skies agreements in order to keep certain carriers from expanding in US markets. The CEOs of Delta, United and American outlined their position in a letter recently to the Obama Administration, after implying as much in their months-long campaign to get the government to “revisit” some agreements. The agreements the Big Three want revisited are those with Qatar and the UAEs—collectively home to Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways.”
Open Skies agreements are essentially free trade for air travel, prohibiting countries from regulating routes and capacity among each other’s carriers. Such agreements have been in place for more than three decades—with the full and active support of US airlines—and the US now has 114 of these agreements in force with countries from every corner of the globe.
Ostensibly, the US airlines’ complaint is rooted in $42 billion in subsidies they allege the three Gulf carriers have received from their governments and that these subsidies violate the Open Skies agreements with those countries.
Fuller’s evaluation of the debate, published in full on Forbes.com, examines the lack of definition of what a “subsidy” is in relation to the agreements, and if what the US airlines are alleging constitutes a violation of any such definition.
“Even if the three Gulf carriers are being subsidised, all three of our major US airlines received subsidies in their fledging years almost 100 years ago, most of which were in the form of US mail contracts. Later on, these same US carriers received major support in the wake of 9/11 and when economic times were tough for them, they received advantages in the form of lenient bankruptcy laws,” Fuller pointed out.
“We all want the US carriers to succeed financially. Air travel is far too integral a part of our economy to think about the alternative. Open Skies agreements have benefitted our industry and consumers as well as communities around the world for more than 30 years now. Orange County California supports the continuation of Open Skies. Orange County supports a policy that allows for increased flights to and from Southern California by all carriers, including the Gulf carriers of Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways."
"The OC believes that on this matter, the US carriers have got it wrong,” he said. - TradeArabia News Service