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The big 3 US legacy airlines are continuing their relentless battle with the big 3 Middle Eastern carriers and are attempting to persuade the US government to impose restrictions on the likes of Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways. The US airlines believe that the Middle Eastern carriers have an unfair advantage thanks to government subsidies they’ve received (according to the US carriers) and they’re doing everything possible to persuade lawmakers and the public to take their side.
The problem is that, in attempting to get the public on their side, I think the US carriers are actually doing quite a bit of lying.
Let me get one thing out of the way before I go any further with this blog post – I don’t care how you feel about the battle between the US legacy airlines (US3) and the big three Middle Eastern carriers (ME3). I really don’t.
I’m not typing this to persuade anyone that their side of the argument is right or wrong and I’m not trying to persuade anyone who, up until now, has shown little interest in this case that now’s the time to sit up and take notice.
What I’m trying to do it to take one significant part of the argument being used by the US legacy airlines against the ME3 and show what a staggeringly hypocritical stance it is. More importantly, not only is this part of the US3’s argument hypocritical, it also attempts to paint the US3 in a light that’s clearly untrue.
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons Media
It’s All About Protecting US Jobs
If you’ve read any of the statements issued directly by the US legacy carriers or the statements they’ve issued through their mouthpieces like “Americans for Fair Skies” or the “Partnership For Open & Fair Skies” you could be forgiven for thinking that the US3 are on a brave quest to protect US jobs.
It’s common to see headlines like “Trade Cheating by Three Gulf Carriers Threatens More Than 25,000 Illinois Jobs” or statements that read:
The UAE and Qatar’s trade violations are a major threat to the jobs of thousands of Illinois workers
[A] net 1,500- U.S. based jobs are lost for every route lost or forgone to one of the Gulf carriers (source)
[F]or every international flight that U.S. airlines are forced to close due to subsidy-fueled Gulf carrier expansion, economists estimate that over 1,500 American jobs are lost (source)
Wow. That’s not at all good is it?
Just by reading statements like those you could be forgiven for thinking that the US3 are the last line of defence against a huge loss in US aviation jobs.
You may even think that it’s important to support corporations like the US3 as they’re the only ones looking out for the good ol’ jobs of the US aviation worker…..except that’s not really true.
Not only is it not true, the reality is very different.
You see, the US3 are great at banging the drum of “protecting US jobs” when they think it will work as a rallying cry to their cause, but they’re not really quite so good about protecting US jobs in reality.
Allow me to explain.
Take a look at this picture:
I took this picture last week and it shows an American Airlines aircraft in a hangar and a United Airlines aircraft waiting in line behind it ready to enter the hangar too.
Nothing wrong with that at all…..except for the fact that I took this picture in Hong Kong.
Since 2012 American Airlines has used HAECO in Hong Kong for all its maintenance work on its Boeing 777 aircraft. Also, per this HAECO newsletter, the Hong Kong facility is “currently working on a cabin retrofit programme for American Airlines’ entire Boeing 777-200ER fleet”.
That’s strange isn’t it? Boeing aircraft are made in the US so you’d think that the US would have workers capable of maintaining and refitting the aircraft their country built….and it does.
The job of maintaining American’s 777 fleet used to be performed at Fort Worth’s Alliance airport but, in 2012, American’s management decided that it would be more economical to outsource all the work to Hong Kong where it still takes place to this day.
An American Airlines 777-300ER
I’m not sure when United Airlines started using HAECO in Hong Kong but this newsletter from 2013 discusses the work HAECO does on United’s Boeing aircraft (yes, those would be US built aircraft once again), this article discusses work that HAECO has done on United’s shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the fact that I saw a United Aircraft at HAECO last week shows that the relationship still exists.
The same newsletter from 2013 also mentions similar work has been done for Air New Zealand and….wait for it…Delta!
Wow! We have a hat trick!
The three airlines that would have you believe that they’re all about protecting US jobs all outsource maintenance work, on US built aircraft, to Hong Kong.
Let’s be clear here. Yes, HAECO does have facilities in the US but this work is being done specifically at the company’s Hong Kong base.
How is that in any way good for US jobs?
That’s not all….not by a long way.
In 2011 American proudly announced “the largest aircraft order in history” and, because we all know how patriotic American Airlines is and how invested the airline is in “protecting US jobs”, clearly that world record deal centers on doing just that….right?
Erm…no. No it doesn’t.
Rather than hand the massive ($38 billion) deal to Boeing (you know, the corporation based in the US which employs thousands of US workers) American split it between Boeing and Airbus (the European aircraft manufacturer).
Of the 460 single-aisle planes ordered, 260 were from the Airbus A320 family and 200 from Boeing 737 family (link to AA press release)
A European-built American Airlines Airbus A321 at LAX
That’s interesting. It would appear that American Airlines is all about “protecting US jobs” right up to the point where that aim no longer suits it.
American Airlines isn’t alone in this by the way…oh no.
Delta, the airline that makes the most noise about US jobs and the evils of the Middle Eastern carriers, is just as bad.
Delta had an order for 18 Boeing Dreamliners that it inherited from its merger with Northwest but, in December 2016, the order was cancelled. That would be an order for 18 aircraft designed and built in the US by US workers.
Delta’s European-built Airbus A350
At the same time as the Boeing order was cancelled Bloomberg news noted that Delta was pressing ahead with its order for 25 European built Airbus A350 aircraft and 25 Airbus A330 neo aircraft.
It would seem as if Delta is indeed interested in supporting jobs in the aviation industry….just not ones in the US.
The US legacy airlines couldn’t care less about US jobs unless shouting about them helps to achieve their business goals.
Whether anyone likes it or not the US airlines’ responsibility is not to protect or to create US jobs it’s to create wealth for their shareholders – that is the legal duty of their boards of directors. If creating wealth for their shareholders happens to coincide with protecting a few US jobs then that’s just a bonus.
As the outsourced aircraft maintenance contracts and the aircraft orders show, the US airlines are only interested in good deals they can make and the profit figures they report to their shareholders – everything else is secondary.
If the US3 were serious about protecting US jobs they’d do their maintenance at home and buy Boeing aircraft rather than Airbus…but they don’t.
Try remembering that the next time a US legacy airline tries to get you all riled up about foreign airlines being a danger to US jobs.