Emirates airline mogul eyes expansion in United States

By Adam Schreck, AP

DUBAI–The man in charge of the Middle East’s biggest airline, Emirates, said Tuesday he is pressing ahead with a global expansion that could include more U.S. routes despite opposition from American carriers who accuse the airline of having an unfair advantage.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman and CEO, said in an interview that several American cities have asked Emirates to launch routes connecting them with its ever-expanding hub in Dubai.

He declined to name the potential destinations, citing competitive reasons and confidentiality agreements, but said the Dubai government-backed carrier is looking to accommodate the requests ��in a very short period of time.��

��We always learn we cannot stop, and this is really the direction of the UAE government and the Dubai government. The minute you stop, somebody will pass you,�� he told The Associated Press. ��In terms of expansion, we will continue.��

Emirates plans to release its annual financial results Thursday. Sheikh Ahmed suggested that international currency fluctuations have offset some gains from lower oil prices but he said that overall ��it’s been an excellent year.��

The airline is looking to increase services ��on every continent�� �X it operates multiple routes into all except Antarctica �X by adding additional routes and increasing frequencies on more than 140 existing ones, he said.

The carrier recently announced plans for daily flights to Orlando, its 10th U.S. passenger destination. That should begin Sept. 1.

U.S. airlines have for years quietly criticized the rapid growth of Emirates and its smaller Gulf competitors, accusing them of poaching passengers and unfairly benefiting from government assistance.

The dispute has been heating up, with American, Delta and United releasing a report this year outlining what they say are billions of dollars in subsidies to Gulf carriers. They are pressing Washington to reconsider treaties that allow Gulf airlines to fly to the U.S. ‘We have been transparent’ Emirates, although owned by Dubai’s government, vigorously denies receiving state subsidies and says it plans to respond in detail to the claims.

��I think we’re dealing with the allegations,�� Sheikh Ahmed said. ��We have been transparent.��

Emirates says it carried more than 2.3 million passengers to and from the U.S. last year.

Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for a coalition known as the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies that includes the three big U.S. airlines and a number of labor unions, responded to Sheikh Ahmed’s comments by saying that Emirates and other Gulf carriers ��aren’t simply growing�� by adding routes to the U.S.

��They are racing against the clock to dump more subsidized capacity into U.S. markets and divert passengers away from the U.S. airlines,�� she said in an statement.

Sheikh Ahmed, the uncle of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, wears many hats in Dubai, both inside and outside of the aviation industry that is a bedrock of the emirate’s economy.