As the governments of the UAE and France enter talks over landing rights, Etihad's chief executive urges Europe to ignore the siren song of protectionism.
Etihad's call over Europe landing slots
The chief executive of Etihad Airways has called on European governments to shun "protectionism" and ignore mounting pressure to deny airport landing rights to Gulf carriers.
He made his comments before a meeting next week between UAE and French officials in which future landing slot allocations in France will be discussed.
"We must not allow economic adversity to nudge us back towards protectionism," said James Hogan, the chief executive officer of Etihad, in a speech to the European Aviation Club in Brussels yesterday.
"Europe has led the way in the liberalisation of many markets and the economic benefits have been clear.
"Protecting a national carrier from open competition is a net negative policy setting for any economy," he added.
Mr Hogan said European carriers should consider increased competition with the Gulf a catalyst to modernise their businesses. Etihad hopes to break even for the first time this year.
Landing rights have been crucial for the UAE's airlines as they seek to expand their destinations — often to the chagrin of western carriers, which allege that Gulf airlines receive unfair government subsidies.
Yesterday, the French newspaper La Tribune reported that Emirates Airline and Etihad would not be granted further landing rights at Paris airports, although they would be given access to regional French airports.
The newspaper did not name the source of its information.
A spokesman for Direction Generale de l'Aviation Civile, the French regulator, denied the reports, saying negotiations would not begin until Tuesday.
Paul Butler, an aviation analyst at Macquarie, said European carriers' complaints were likely to be countered by lobbying from the aircraft manufacturers that supply Gulf carriers.
"While you may see lobbying by the airlines for these rights not to be granted, … you'll see Emirates and Etihad putting pressure on the likes of Airbus to give those landing rights," he said.
Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways have a combined order book of 299 Airbus aircraft, worth US$80 billion (Dh293.83bn), Mr Hogan said.