News in brief from across the globe... This week, several US airlines called on the US government to ignore complaints by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines and reaffirm its commitment to Open Skies agreements with UAE and Qatar. Elsewhere, Kenya Airways has secured shareholder approval for its proposed restructuring plan, but local banks are challenging the associated debt-for-equity swap.


⇒ Several US airlines, airports and regional airline associations have signed a letter asking Congress to reaffirm the country’s commitment to its Open Skies agreements, urging it to ignore a feverous lobbying campaign by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, which have repeatedly called on the government to intervene against the three major Gulf airlines over alleged unfair state subsidies. The group of companies – which includes Alaska Air, Atlas Air, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue – said they wanted to draw attention to the economic and consumer benefits that Open Skies agreements have brought. They said the government should reject demands issued by the three US legacy carriers, which want lawmakers to freeze US routes operated by Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. “These [US] airlines complain of unfair subsidies but have chosen not to use the Department of Transportation procedures that Congress established to hear such claims. We urge the administration to protect Open Skies by insisting that these claims be assessed on the merits and in the proper forum,” the companies said in the letter. The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies lobbying group – which counts American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines as members – said in response: “It's pretty sad that some people are willing to risk the economic well-being of the American aviation industry and the 1.2 million jobs it supports, just to defend the Gulf carriers’ ability to keep on taking billions of dollars in foreign government subsidies... The truth is that Open Skies agreements already provide a way to deal with rule-breakers, and anything else is just an attempt to delay and derail American jobs.”

⇒ The US Senate confirmed the appointment of Robert Sumwalt as chair of the National Transportation Safety Board on 3 August, but a vote confirming Steven Bradbury as general counsel at the Department of Transportation has been pushed back until after the summer legislative recess. Responding to the appointment of Sumwalt, the Air Line Pilots Association issued a statement congratulating him on his confirmation. “Chairman Sumwalt’s extensive qualifications and experience in the aviation industry, which include cofounding ALPA’s own Critical Incident Response Program, have resulted in numerous advancements in safety over the course of his decades of service,” an ALPA spokesperson said.

⇒ US lawmakers have proposed new legislation to tighten existing regulations that govern the use of drones. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Jim Langevin introduced the Drone Operator Safety Act last week, which would make it a criminal offence for operators to use drones in a way that risks the safety of manned aircraft, while also prohibiting the use of drones near airports without permission from air traffic control. Operators who breach the rules would be subjected to a fine and could even face a custodial sentence. “While the FAA has the authority to levy civil penalties on individuals operating drones in a manner that puts people and property at risk, there currently is no criminal provision that directly addresses the unsafe operation of drones,” Langevin said in a statement on his website.

⇒ Passengers on a JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to Sacramento on 11 August 2016 have sued the carrier for injuries suffered when the aeroplane encountered severe turbulence and performed an emergency landing, reports the Sacramento Bee. Two passengers filed a lawsuit on 2 August, alleging that JetBlue “disregarded the threat of a major thunderstorm” when flying over South Dakota, causing both passengers to suffer neck and spinal injuries. “JetBlue chose not to advise its Flight 429 passengers to stay seated with seatbelts fastened... As a consequence, the thunderstorm’s sudden and severe turbulence threw passengers repeatedly about the cabin and into the ceiling,” the lawsuit said.

PenAir filed for bankruptcy protection in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Alaska on 6 August. The Alaskan carrier said in a statement that the Chapter 11 filing would allow it to restructure its operations and finances, closing its hubs in Portland and Denver. PenAir chief executive Danny Seybert said he was “quite excited about” the bankruptcy proceedings, according to Alaska Dispatch News.

Middle East and Africa

⇒ Minority shareholders of Kenya Airways have backed the carrier’s restructuring plan, which will see it create 5.5 billion more shares and convert debt into equity, the airline confirmed on 7 August. Michael Joseph, chairman of Kenya Airways, said the proposals are essential for the airline to return to profit. Despite approval from its shareholders, several local banks, which are owed money by the carrier, are challenging the proposed debt-for-equity swap in the courts.