Reps. Tom Emmer and Tim Walz

Imagine living in a world where foreign, state-owned airlines have a monopoly on travel and American airline companies close their doors, leaving their hardworking employees — many of whom reside in Minnesota — out of work. Since 1992, our country has signed more than 100 agreements with other countries with the goal of preventing exactly this type of situation. Known as “Open Skies” agreements, they work to modernize air travel, remove protectionist air transit policies by state-owned carriers, prevent undue government intervention, and ease military and diplomatic travel between nations.

Open Skies Agreements level the playing field and have increased choices for consumers, improved international commerce and trade, and make it easier to move about the country and world. 

All told, nearly 75 percent of all international flights today go to Open Skies partners. Once an underserved destination, Minnesota now benefits tremendously from recent Open Skies agreements.

Nationwide, the U.S. airline industry supports close to $1.5 trillion in economic activity and more than 11 million jobs. In Minnesota alone, the air travel industry employs nearly 20,000 individuals and contributes more than $2 billion to our economy annually.

Troubling violations

This is why recent violations of the Open Skies Agreements by state-owned foreign air carriers are so troubling. Left unchecked, thousands of good-paying American jobs will be lost because of unfair competition with state-subsidized carriers from the Persian Gulf. All we’re asking is that everyone plays by the same set of rules, and have the same opportunity to compete. Unfortunately, in some cases, this isn’t happening.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both strong American allies and partners, have violated the spirit of Open Skies. These agreements provide our countries’ airlines open access to each other’s home markets in exchange for a promise of fair competition free from government interference. But in just the last decade, these two nations’ governments have poured more than $40 billion in subsidies into their state-owned airlines in clear violation of Open Skies.

Like many other state-owned carriers, the subsidy-fueled Gulf carriers are growing at a record pace, rapidly expanding their fleets and international routes. While Open Skies promotes and even encourages competition, European markets have seen the devastating impact of this tactic. Now U.S. carriers are at risk, taking passengers from our airlines and threatening a critical industry and thousands of American jobs. 

Jobs and service on the line

If U.S. carriers are forced to cut back on international flights due to the unfair competition, jobs will be lost, service to MSP and airports in Greater Minnesota will be diminished, and much of the vital economic activity provided by the air travel industry will be in jeopardy.

In response, a coalition of 250-plus Members of Congress; more than a half-dozen labor unions; and U.S. carriers such as Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines have joined together in requesting that Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx open consultations with Qatar and the UAE, as outlined in the Open Skies Agreements themselves.

We appreciate the administration’s position on this situation and stand ready to support Secretaries Kerry and Foxx. In order to protect American industries, consumers, and workers, we must work with Gulf carriers to halt their violations of these Open Skies Agreements and maintain a level playing field.

Tom Emmer represents Minnesota’s 6th District and is on the House Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Committees. Tim Walz represents Minnesota’s 1st District and is on the House Armed Services, Agriculture and Veterans’ Affairs Committees.