jetBlue Airways (B6, New York JFK), FedEx, and Atlas Air (5Y, New York JFK) have appealed to the US government not to restrict either Air Italy (IG, Milan Malpensa) or Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad Int'l) from flying to the country, contradicting an earlier campaign by the Big Three legacy US airlines.

"Should the US breach the US-Qatar agreement by restricting Qatar Airways’ rights into the US, or the US-EU agreement by restricting Air Italy flights, we can expect to see a rapid unraveling of hard-fought aviation rights around the world when other governments take similar action to shield their state-owned airlines from competition," the airlines said in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

jetBlue, FedEx, and Atlas Air argued that Air Italy operates legally to the United States under third and fourth freedom of the skies. They said that allegations that Qatar Airways, which controls 49% of Air Italy, uses the Italian carrier to run "de facto seventh freedom flights" are "wholly unsubstantiated".

The three airlines warned of retaliation which could hurt not only their individual interests but also US passengers and businesses.

They further argued that by the same token, Delta Air Lines' 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic (VS, London Heathrow) or American Airlines' 2.8% stake in China Southern Airlines (CZ, Guangzhou) could be seen as violating other international and bilateral air traffic agreements.

The letter came in response to a campaign by American Airlines (AA, Dallas/Fort Worth), United Airlines (UA, Chicago O'Hare), and Delta Air Lines (DL, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson) which argue that by using Air Italy as its proxy, Qatar Airways is, in fact, violating the 2018 US-Qatar agreement related to future air traffic rights to the US for the Qatari airline.

On April 16, the Big Three airlines' CEOs published an advertisement in the New York Times saying that Qatar Airways, which they called a "heavily subsidised airline", continues to hurt American businesses by bypassing the 2018 agreement.

Air Transport World has reported that the US Senate aviation and space subcommittee is tentatively planning to hold a hearing regarding the Air Italy-Qatar Airways tie-up in May 2019.

Excluding cargo flights, Qatar Airways currently flies 75x weekly to the US from Doha Hamad Int'l serving New York JFK (2x daily), Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston Intc'l, Los Angeles Int'l, Philadelphia Int'l, Washington Dulles (all daily), and Miami Int'l (5x weekly). Air Italy operates an additional 20 weekly flights from Milan Malpensa to the US, serving Los Angeles (4x weekly), Miami (5x weekly), New York JFK (daily), and San Francisco, CA (4x weekly). The Italian carrier's flights to the US are not covered by the code-share agreement with Qatar Airways.

The Italian carrier squarely rejected all accusations by the US Big Three in a statement, underlying that it is an Italian-registered and controlled company with a shareholders' structure approved by all relevant authorities.

"The largest US carriers (and their alliance partners) control about 90% of all transatlantic traffic. If any of these three US airlines genuinely believe that our tiny share of “their” market is a threat, or that we should not be permitted to be licensed as an Italian carrier and serve the US, then they should address their complaints to ENAC [Italian CAA] and to the European Commission," Air Italy said.

Editorial Comment: Added Air Italy statement. - 19.04.2019 - 04:09 UTC