Airline traffic rights: JetBlue targets United over Star partner Air China’s fifth freedom plan

JetBlue Airways has been one of the most vocal opponents of the years-long campaign by the three large US global network airlines – American, Delta and United – to combat what they deem as unfair government subsidies awarded to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

One driver for the US Big 3 airlines’ subsidy blitz was Emirates’ utilisation of fifth freedom rights to launch service from Dubai through Milan to Delta’s hub at JFK. Subsequently, Emirates introduced fifth freedom service from Dubai through Athens to Newark Liberty airport – United’s main trans-Atlantic gateway. The crux of the argument is that those airlines could use illegal subsidies to encroach on lucrative trans-Atlantic routes.

Now United’s state-owned Star Alliance partner Air China aims to use fifth freedom rights to launch new service to Panama City through United’s hub at Houston Intercontinental. As a consequence, JetBlue is singling out United for its silence on Air China’s proposed route pairing, and is arguing that all state-owned airlines should be treated in a similar manner.

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