The United States Department of Commerce just announced a whopping 219 percent import tariff on Canadian Bombardier C-Series narrow-body jets following a petition by domestic aircraft manufacturer Boeing. While Boeing tries to protect its home market by calling for trade barriers, that same company should be worried about U.S. airlines building up a protectionist wall that would eventually keep some of Boeing's best clients from adding routes to the U.S.
Delta Air Lines recently released an entire website dedicated to train their employees and stakeholders on why Middle Eastern carriers (ME3) are a threat to the U.S. economy. That same website features a 15-minute long high quality video interviewing flight attendants and other airline employees about the allegedly unfair competition from the Persian Gulf.
While providing many alleged facts on the ME3 being a danger to U.S. jobs, they also show their ignorance to geography and geopolitics in one infographic that puts Qatar Airways' headquarters in the United Arab Emirates. Somehow team Delta must have missed that Qatar and the U.A.E. are two different countries that are actually close to entering a military conflict with each other. Apart from such factual shortcomings, it is frightening to see how a once cosmopolitan industry is on a slippery slope towards intolerance and misguided economic nationalism.
Let's talk subsidies: Not only Delta, but all major U.S. carriers are united in this cause. The industry association Open & Fair Skies concludes that the ME3 have received $52 billion from their home governments since 2004. While rightfully pointing out that this is a distortion of competition in the free market, they fail to acknowledge the subsidies U.S. carriers have received in the same period.
U.S. carriers receive nearly $300 million per year in subsidies under the Essential Air Service program for uneconomic domestic routes. At the same time, billions of federal, state, and municipal funds are being spent on airport infrastructure projects. This is common in other countries as well, but if they're going to call out their competitors, the U.S. carriers should be careful to avoid being hypocrties. Aviation expert Gary Leff points out that when taking government-backed debt relief and pension guarantees into account, the major U.S. carriers have received more subsidies since 2000 than the ME3.
Delta complains about the large orders Middle Eastern carriers have placed with Boeing and Airbus. This contradicts their argument that the ME3 are destroying jobs in the U.S. Many of the 539 wide-body planes ordered by the ME3 will actually be manufactured in the U.S., creating jobs in cities such as Seattle and Charleston, S.C. With Boeing having merely one global competitor in wide-body jets, the U.S. manufacturing industry benefits a lot from the global growth of the airline industry.
Delta's employees also ask in their video how to compete with an airline that flies nearly-empty planes between Doha and Atlanta. The answer is fairly simple: Don't serve that route and let your competitor burn through their cash. Competing with companies that service cash-negative routes should be piece of cake.
The disturbing messages coming out of the White House seems to be in tune with economic nationalism, suggesting that the U.S. would be better off by disinvolving itself from the global economy. While evidence shows that protectionist countries are worse off and generate less prosperity than open nations, it is much more disturbing that even international airlines follow the road of anti-globalization demagogy.
Delta seems to have employed an entire army of corporate lobbyists that help them spreading post-truths about competition in the skies. One of the groups is a self-proclaimed grassroots organization, Americans for Fair Skies, an organization run by a former pilot who seems to receive $1 million per year for his lobbying efforts. This organization appears to have ventured out to Europe as well, in order to attack the ME3 form both sides of the Atlantic.
The dramatic rhetoric of airlines such as Delta, United, and American would suggest that they are in an existential struggle for survival. This is far from true as airline blogger Ben Schlappig correctly writes that U.S. carriers are currently making record profits.
Airlines have been at the forefront of globalization. Thanks to modern aviation, the world is more connected than ever before. Cheap and frequent flights don't only allow the global economy to thrive but also enable binational love, cross-border family relationships, and temporary migration better than ever in human history.
While Delta generously sponsors pride parades across the country and claims to "fly out to the world", it plays a nasty game with foreign competitors. Slandering their competitors went even so far that Delta's CEO linked the ME3 to Islamic terrorism, merely because they are from largely-Muslim countries.
If Delta, United, and American want to be perceived as liberal and conscious companies, they would be well-advised to lower their xenophobic rhetoric, acknowledge that they benefit from subsidies as well, and drop dishonest post-truth slander campaigns. A company wins the hearts and minds of customers by offering good services at an affordable price, focusing on their own strengths and showing integrity — the same applies to airplane manufacturers such as Boeing.
Frederik Roeder is managing director of the Consumer Choice Center.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.