'Give us two years to respond on subsidies' - Emirates

Emirates boss says it is "only fair" as US carriers took two years to compile the allegations of government support.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman, Emirates Airline.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman, Emirates Airline.


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by Sarah Townsend

The chairman of Emirates Airline has said it is “only fair” that the Dubai airline is given two years to respond to allegations it received millions of dollars of government subsidies to spur its growth.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum told reporters at the Arabian Travel Market conference on Tuesday that if the three US carriers accusing Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways of receiving more than $40 billion in subsidies from their respective governments had taken two years to compile their dossier of evidence, then the Gulf airlines must be given the same amount of time.

“If you want to be fair – if you’ve given somebody two years you have to give it to the other,” he said. “’Fair skies’, fair opportunities.”

But he added he was confident the airline would produce a report to prove campaigners wrong.

“Emirates pays dividend to shareholders, the government; we’ve been publishing our results for the past 23 years, being transparent, dealing with banks, financial institutions, we are in the market for bonds, sukuk – you name it – and all of that requires a lot of [financial information] those parties have to see.

“Anybody who lends you a dollar these days has to see what you plan to do with it – you cannot just claim it because of who you are or how big you are. So it’s not like we don’t have the data available. It’s all there. But putting things together in an orderly format and showing what we are being asked for [takes time], and that’s why we are saying that, if the US airlines have been working on this for the past two years, we should be allowed sufficient time to answer them.

“We will prove we are right and that there is no subsidy.”

However, Sheikh Ahmed appeared to dismiss earlier indications by chief executive Tim Clark that the airline was considering legal action in response to the allegations. He explained that the allegations have not affected Emirates’ expansion or other business plans – it even launched new routes to the US just last month – which, he suggested, would make a legal case harder to mount.

“We shouldn’t forget that it is in the US airlines’ interest too [to resolve the subsidies dispute]. Take all these American courier companies that operate here under the bilateral: UPS, Federal Express, DHL - they do so mainly because of the Emirates operation.

“The airlines, too, see benefit because the emirates connects them with the rest of the region. Otherwise they’d have to be basing aircraft from somewhere else to touch those points, which would not make their product its best.”

Sheikh Ahmed also said Emirates would not be as big as it is today if it had joined one of the global airlines alliances back in the 1990s.

“Right from the start we saw it as a factor that could limit our growth,” he said. “We asked ourselves at the time whether not joining an alliance would be a negative thing for Emirates in the future, and decided we would go on our own because we didn’t want to be restricted in our plans.

“At the time I think maybe a number of airlines were doing alliances because they saw that the big ones were doing it so it must be good. But it’s not necessarily the case that if somebody is big he knows everything.”

However, he would not be drawn on his views on whether the model was outdated and the current subsidies row was evidence as such. “I’m talking about us, the way we are. For others, maybe it’s good for them.”

Meanwhile the airline has yet to hear from Airbus over progress developing the A380 Neo – a more fuel-efficient version of the existing A380 that Clark told ATM delegates could cut the company’s operating costs by 10-13%.

It hopes to have an update by July.

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