According to a Dutch news website, the Dutch government has decided to severely restrict traffic for the ‘big three’ Gulf carriers to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, citing that demand does not currently match supply to the European Union member nation.
The move comes after increasing rhetoric in the United States, with the Obama administration set to decide whether to open a dialogue with the UAE and Qatar over an alleged US$42 billion in subsidies since 2004. These alleged subsidies, if proven would be in direct contravention of the open skies agreements currently in place between the home countries of these airlines and the United States.
The European Union is currently in the process of negotiating an air treaty with the Gulf states which includes clauses on state financing.
This is not the first such move by a European Union member, with Germany restricting the three major Gulf carriers to certain cities, but not limiting the amount of traffic between. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad skirted around this by buying a large stake in German-based carrier Airberlin, who currently operates from two German cities to the UAE capital.
It’s no secret that the older ‘legacy’ carriers have felt threatened by the meteoric rise of their Middle Eastern competitors with newer planes, cheaper cost bases and generally better onboard amenities, but this is the first such genuine move by a government to put a hard limit on traffic between the Gulf states and Europe. Considering that none of the large European carriers are government entities moves like these can be seen as interfering with private enterprise in a murky sense of national pride. We’ve seen the same arguments here locally in the past between Qantas and the Australian government.
Emirates recently reported a large profit which no doubt irritated many US and European airline CEOs. Qatar Airways also recently announced an aggressive push into the North American market. Etihad Airways has a sensational First Class product and has their A380 arriving into New York later this year, complete with its ‘re-imagined’ products such as the First Class Apartment and flagship offering The Residence.
Getting back to Amsterdam, it seems this change is really more symbolic than anything else. Looking at current timetables, Emirates operated two flights daily, one A380 and one 777-300ER. Etihad only operate one flight daily and ironically codeshare with KLM on a second. Qatar Airways do not currently operate to Amsterdam but start 787 flights on June 16th. So Emirates will be the only affected party, assuming this is enforced. At the time of writing, Emirates have not altered any of their schedules.