US airlines launch dogfight with Mid East rivals

American Airlines Delta and United have closed ranks and pitched into a bitter dogfight with three state-owned rivals from the Middle East.

''I was skeptical,'' American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told a crowd at the National Press Club during a rare joint event that featured the CEOs from all three US companies.

He said though, he had been persuaded by a two-year Delta investigation that he said proved that hidden subsidies for Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates had financed their explosive expansion into the US.

According to Delta CEO Richard Anderson, the three already offered 24 daily non-stop flights to the US, and said that number would increase if the White House did not act.

The airlines would call on the US government to clamp a temporary halt on the expansions and open up discussions with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates over allegations of unfair trade practices.

''We have worked far too hard to get this industry to a point of self-sufficiency, where people, if they choose to work for one of our airlines, can choose to end their careers there,'' Parker said Friday. ''That's been a hard fight, and they are not going to let that go away because two countries are allowed to subsidise flights into this country.''

According to Etihad, the US carriers received about $64.9 billion in bankruptcy and pension-related aid from the US government, benefits which were generally only available to US carriers and which helped to create a ''highly distorted market''.

The Open Skies fight had triggered a lobbying brawl exposing a rift between domestic airlines and travel and consumer groups that argued US carriers were trying to prevent competition for international flights.