Children, children, children!
The ongoing spat over air rights between Canada and the United Arab Emirates is starting to look an awful lot like some pathetic preschool playground squabble – complete with finger pointing, name calling and sand throwing. Except this time it’s not only supposed ‘adults’, but sovereign states playing increasingly ludicrous politics on the international stage. […]
February 1, 2011
By Donald Urquhart
The ongoing spat over air rights between Canada and the United Arab Emirates is starting to look an awful lot like some pathetic preschool playground squabble – complete with finger pointing, name calling and sand throwing. Except this time it’s not only supposed ‘adults’, but sovereign states playing increasingly ludicrous politics on the international stage. At the heart of the matter is this ongoing problem of what many see as government interference in the commercial aviation industry – one of IATA’s major pet peeves. It also underscores the ongoing struggle to get countries to accept true ‘open skies’and not simply on a piecemeal basis. The problem in this case is the age-old issue of securing air rights: The UAE wants more, Canada probably fearing for the health of Air Canada is steadfastly refusing to give and now nasty, brutish politics have taken over as both parties have pumped up the rhetoric as they play out the farcical drama in the media. The playground fracas has its roots in a UAE request for additional services to its six flights a week allotment, shortly after Emirates first began services to Toronto in late 2007. They cited rising demand between Canada and the UAE, the 27,000 Canadians living there and increasingly important trade relationships between the two. Negotiations went on for several years, but resulted in little to no progress. In June 2010, an agreement for the Canadian military to use a UAE military base to service its operations in Afghanistan expired and was granted a three month extension. The top bosses of Emirates, including one particularly well-known head of cargo along with the chief exec of Air Canada also weighed in, extolling the pros and cons of their various positions, via the mainstream media. Then in November it was reported that although Air Canada objected to any increased service to Canadian destinations, Canada was prepared to offer more landing slots at Calgary and Vancouver, but the catch was, the Canadian authorities were actually giving more destinations but with the same or reduced capacity. The UAE negotiators were not satisfied and indeed probably insulted. This then sparked off the whole the playground knockdown. Canada was evicted from the military base and Canadian politicians accused the UAE of blackmailing them and raised the much bandied-about topic of whether Emirates has a sugar-daddy or not. The Emirati side returned caustic fire denying it had ‘extra-deep’pockets and accusing Canadian politicians of completely misrepresenting the situation. The latest revelation came courtesy of The Canadian Press, which obtained a confidential document drawn up by Air Canada in October 2006 titled, ‘Proposed Framework for Commercial Cooperation’, which proposed a 50/50 profit sharing formula with Emirates for routes between Canada-UAE starting with a daily flight between Dubai and Toronto’s Pearson Airport, with the possibility of expanding service to other cities. The deal never materialised and it appears it was likely rejected by Emirates because of the profit-sharing element. The one obvious conclusion that has to be drawn from this – other than the fact the two sides need to go back for an International Relations 101 refresher course – is that government has no place in the everyday commercial airline business – excepting of course areas like security, safety, etc. But as long open skies are not truly universal, the issue of air rights is always going to be coloured by the prejudices and most often misguided nationalist sentiments of politicians.