Comments made by Delta boss about Gulf airlines were ‘irresponsible’ and have ‘no place in open skies debate’.
US-UAE Business Council chief slams ‘irresponsible’ comments linking Gulf airlines to 9/11 attacks
ABU DHABI // The president of the US-UAE Business Council has described comments linking Arabian Gulf airlines such as Emirates and Etihad Airways to the September 11 terrorist attacks as “disappointing and irresponsible”.
In an open letter, Danny Sebright said the comments made by Richard Anderson, the chief executive of Delta Air Lines, had “no place in the current debate over open skies” adding that the UAE had been a great ally to America.
He said: “The 9/11 attacks were a national and global tragedy. Civilised countries and leaders condemned them in the strongest possible way.”
Among them, he said, was Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, who said at the time that the “criminal acts” of 9/11 should “prompt a strong international alliance to eradicate terrorism and all those who provide assistance to it or harbour it”.
“The UAE is one of the US’s closest and most reliable defence and security partners in the global fight against terrorism and extremism in the world today,” said Mr Sebright.
“Even as I write, the UAE is flying combat air operations as one of the most active members of the anti-ISIL coalition.”
Mr Anderson’s comments came during a commercial dispute in which he said he saw a “great irony” in Gulf airlines’ criticism of US aid to domestic carriers after the 2001 attacks since many of the terrorists came from the region.
Emirates’ president and chief executive Tim Clark also responded to the comments made by Mr Anderson, saying: “I’m not angry. I’m a little bit concerned that Mr Anderson crossed the line with what he said in regard to 9/11, which has caused great offence in this part of the world.”
Mr Clark had rebutted claims of unfair aid from Gulf states to their airlines.
The claims are said to be contained in a report that American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta gave US government officials.
The trio said their Gulf rivals received government subsidies. The US firms were campaigning for the government to roll back some provisions of the “open skies” agreements the US had with countries such as the UAE and Qatar.
“We have not had the benefit or courtesy of being supplied with this report,” said Mr Clark. “I would have thought that if these airlines were going to make allegations the least they could have done is to supply us with that report.”
In a statement to the International Business Times, a Delta spokesman clarified Mr Anderson’s comments to CNN, saying: “The point Richard was making is this: Emirates, Qatar and Etihad have long tried to defend their government bankrolls by characterising the 9/11 payments and Chapter 11 bankruptcy as subsidies.
“This couldn’t be further from the truth. The first was a modest one-time payment to US airlines in the aftermath of the US airspace closure after 9/11. Chapter 11 is a completely transparent process that involves no government funding.
“The Middle East carriers, meanwhile, capitalised on that difficult time to begin in earnest an unfettered expansion that was largely paid for with subsidies from their governments.”
In response to this statement, Emirates said: “Emirates rejects the apology issued by Delta in response to comments made by its CEO on 16 February which intimated a link between the Gulf carriers and the 9/11 attacks.
“We believe that the statements by Mr Anderson were deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect.
“This brings into question his credibility as a CEO of a US public-listed company, as well as the integrity of the submission which his airline has submitted to the US authorities.”