Baraka urges feds to stop foreign airlines from expanding to Newark

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 26, 2015

NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka has penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other Cabinet members, asking them to immediately stop the expansion of Middle East-based airlines into domestic markets which he says could threaten the city's airport and economy.

The missive, also addressed to Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, said carriers are subsidized by their governments and could cut into markets carved out by domestic outfits such as United Airlines, which provides thousands of jobs to Newark-area residents.

"This is something that Newark Liberty International Airport cannot afford to have happen, and will have a profound impact on the City of Newark," it reads.

Despite receiving an estimated $40 billion in subsidies from their governments over the last 10 years, companies such as Qatar Airlines and United Arab Emirates-based Emirates and Ethaid Airways operate under so-called "open skies" agreements, which allow American and foreign airlines to fly to each other's countries without restrictions.

The airlines currently operate in and out of John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, but United and other domestic competitors have voiced concerns that current policies will allow the Middle Eastern airlines to undercut American prices and possibly expand to new international airports like Newark Liberty.

Baraka echoed those concerns in his letter, saying their presence could undermine domestic airlines' ability to provide non-stop service and even force them to cancel some of the 84 international routes available at the airport.

"This will impact everyone in our city from airport workers, to hotel staff, to pilots, and even to the large number of women and minority owned businesses that EWR and the Port Authority awards ongoing construction projects to," he said in the letter.

According to the mayor, a total of 19,700 workers are employed at Newark Liberty, and its total effect on the area supports about another 142,000 jobs. It is credited with spurring about $22.9 billion in economic activity in the region each year, including around $8.3 billion in wages.

Baraka's concerns are shared by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) and some 250 other members of Congress, who recently signed a letter asking the U.S. Transportation Department to intervene in the foreign airlines' expansion.

Earlier this week, Pallone told NJ Advance Media that he didn't want the American airline industry to go "down the drain because of unfair practices."

Emirates has argued that its expansion helps grow American jobs because it purchases Boeing planes and introduced new flights to international destinations that U.S. carriers do not offer.

Baraka urged federal officials to engage Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in talks about their subsidized expansions' effect on American shores, and "to ensure that U.S. and Gulf carriers are competing under the same terms and by the same set of rules."

He also asked that an immediate ban be placed on all new passenger service by the foreign outfits, which were being introduced even in the absence of true market demand.

"It is important that you understand the magnitude of this issue and its impact on jobs and cities such as Newark," he said.

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