Delta Air Lines on Wednesday apologized for comments made by its chief executive officer, Richard Anderson, in which he likened Middle East carriers to the 9/11 terrorists.
“Richard was reacting to claims the gulf carriers have been making that U.S. airlines received subsidies in the form of payments from the U.S. government after the 9/11 attacks and the bankruptcy proceedings that resulted,” Delta said in a statement. “He didn’t mean to suggest the gulf carriers or their governments are linked to the 9/11 terrorists. We apologize if anyone was offended.”
Anderson, along with his counterparts from American and United, wants the U.S. government to amend or repeal the Open Skies Agreement. He was debating the point with CNN’s Richard Quest on the show Quest Means Business when he uttered a statement that is being widely interpreted as making a comparison between the Gulf carriers and the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Quest said, “To the allegation that, well, you restructured under Chapter 11 (bankruptcy). The U.S. fleet certainly gains benefits from the civil defense fleet. American has just restructured. The argument is that you, in your own ways, have had your hand in the bailout trough.”
Quest was referring to the dramatic financial difficulties domestic airlines endured as a result of 9/11, with all three major legacy carriers going into bankruptcy at some point following the tragedy.
Anderson quickly fired back.
“That is categorically false,” the Delta CEO said. “And it’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula. That caused us to go through a massive restructuring. And in the United States our restructuring process is transparent and there is no government subsidy. And in fact there were billions of dollars of equity and unsecured debt that were wiped out through that process.”
But Emirates Airlines rejected the apology.
“Emirates rejects the apology issued by Delta Air Lines in response to comments made by its CEO on Monday 16th February which intimated a link between the Gulf carriers and the 9/11 attacks,” an Emirates spokesman said in a statement. “We believe that the statements made this week by Mr. Anderson were deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect. This brings into question his credibility as a CEO of a U.S. public listed company, as well as the integrity of the submission which his airline has submitted to the US authorities”
At issue is the ever-growing market share being won by Middle East-based carriers Etihad, Emirates and Qatar – all of whom are subsidized by their respective governments and, some believe, also get discounts on fuel prices. The three major U.S. airlines believe that gives the Gulf region carriers an unfair competitive advantage.
A day after Anderson’s comments, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker also went on CNN and fired a return salvo. After denying that his airline accepts government subsidies, Al Baker said: “He should be ashamed to bring up the issue of terrorism in order to hide his inefficiency in running an airline. He should compete with us instead of cry wolf for his shortcomings.”
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