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Airline CEOs to meet with Trump amid feud with Persian Gulf carriers

Joe Williams

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to meet on Thursday with top executives of the nation’s largest airlines, as the carriers push the White House to take more aggressive action to stop the United Arab Emirates and Qatar from unfairly subsidizing their government-owned airlines.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker and JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes will be in attendance. FedEx CEO Frederick Smith will also be at the meeting.

Southwest Airlines will not send a representative because it does not serve the Gulf Region, a spokesperson said.

Last year, Trump signed an “open skies” agreement with Qatar and the UAW to prohibit subsidies from flowing to Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. The carriers also agreed not to fly any direct routes between the U.S. and Europe.

But in an op-ed earlier this month, Munoz and Bastian, along with American CEO Doug Parker, said the two nations are violating that deal.

They urged the Trump administration to “act decisively” to curb the backdoor subsidies that they say send "a message to other countries that they can take advantage of the United States without consequence.”

“If Qatar and the UAE aren’t willing to uphold their side of the deals, the United States should consider removing itself from these two Open Skies treaties altogether,” they wrote.

The trio also said Qatar is breaching its pledge to not fly between the U.S. and Europe with its investment in a regional Italian airline and using the new Air Italy to conduct those routes.

The issue is likely to come up during Thursday’s meeting. Also potentially on the agenda is the ongoing grounding of Boeing’s Max fleet.

While Delta does not fly any of the jets, American and United have been forced to cancel thousands of flights through November as the carriers scramble to mitigate the impact of the grounding and prepare for a delay in deliveries of new planes.

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Boeing continues to work with federal regulators to approval to return the Max to service. Experts say the plane could remain grounded until 2020.

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