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Tim Clark: Emirates' US flight cut 'not permanent'

Airline's president says decision to cut 25 of the 126 weekly flights a temporary measure because of fall in demand.

Emirates

A day after Emirates announced plans to cut flights to the United States by 20 percent, the airline's president has called its decision temporary and said it has no plan of withdrawing from the world's largest aviation market.

Emirates on Wednesday said it was slashing 25 of the 126 weekly flights it operates into the US from Dubai starting in May. It blamed the move on stiffer US security measures and attempts to ban travelers from some Muslim-majority nations since President Donald Trump took office in January.

The cutbacks will mean twice daily Emirates flights to Boston, Los Angeles and Seattle will fall to once a day. Direct flights to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando will drop to five a week in May from daily flights

In his first interview on Thursday since announcing the move, Tim Clark, Emirates' president, told The Associated Press the airline has no intention of pulling out of the 12 US cities to which it currently flies. 

He called the decision to cut flights a temporary response to a drop in demand, saying it does not signal a desire by Emirates to halt its expansion in the US.

"This is not a permanent arrangement ... I do not see this as a paradigm shift," Clark said. "Obviously our plans remain in place and we are as bullish and as confident about the US markets as we have been."

Emirates' base at Dubai International Airport is a major transit point for travellers affected by Trump's executive order suspending visas to people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Like an earlier ban that also included Iraqi citizens, it has been blocked from taking effect by US courts.

Dubai was also one of 10 cities in Muslim-majority countries affected by a ban on laptops and other personal electronics in carry-on luggage aboard US-bound flights. 

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York, said business travel between the US and the Middle East has clearly been hurt by the ban on gadgets, while the attempted visa bans have put a damper on leisure travel from the countries targeted.

"Neither factor is a good thing for the Middle Eastern carriers who are primarily affected," he said.

Clark declined to detail how much of a financial hit the Dubai government-backed carrier has taken over the past three months, but he described the falloff in passenger demand as "significant".

Kevin Mitchell, head of the Business Travel Coalition in the US, said all the Gulf carriers are probably losing business because of the security measures and attempted travel bans, and that will hurt consumers.

"For consumers it means higher prices, fewer choices, less connectivity," Mitchell said.

Stiff resistance

Emirates does not provide financial details solely for its US operations. The Americas region, which also includes routes to Canada and Latin America, generated $3.3bn in revenue, or 14 percent of total sales, in the fiscal year ending March 2016, according to the company's last annual report.

Emirates and its Gulf rivals have faced stiff resistance from big US airlines and their labour unions, who accuse the Middle East-based carriers of being unfairly subsidised by their governments.

The Gulf carriers strongly dispute the allegations.

In the past year, US airlines have urged their government to act against Gulf carriers, which have expanded services to the United States and have been eating into market share.

Commenting on Emirates' decision, Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the "Partnership for Open & Fair Skies" advocacy group representing American airlines - including American, Delta and United - said "market demand has never played a role when the Gulf carriers decide where to fly.

"It is well known that the Gulf carriers, including Emirates, lose money on most of their flights to the United States and are propped up by billions of dollars in government cash," she said in a statement. 

"That Emirates would refer to itself as 'profit oriented' is simply laughable."


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