IATA Chief Calls for Free Trade, Open Borders in U.S. Address

 - March 3, 2017, 3:22 PM
IATA's Alexandre de Juniac meets with reporters during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit. (Photo: Bill Carey)

Making his first official visit to Washington, D.C., as the recently appointed chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Alexandre de Juniac called for free trade and open borders during an appearance March 2 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit. The former airline CEO and French government official also offered support of U.S. airline industry positions on deregulation, reduced taxes and air traffic control restructuring.

In an address to the high-level summit of industry executives, de Juniac said the international airline organization is “deeply concerned with recent developments that point to a future of restricted borders and protectionism.” Meeting later with reporters, he elaborated on IATA’s response to President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order banning entry into the U.S. by people from seven Muslim-majority countries. That order—since suspended by a federal court—came without prior coordination or warning to the airlines, IATA complained.

“We had some phone calls from members who were really upset because they had on their shoulders hundreds of people in various airports that they had to repatriate and it was a big mess,” de Juniac said. “We recognize that it is the responsibility of a state to control its borders, so it was the responsibility of the U.S. to implement a restriction [for] entry into the U.S.—that’s how the international system works,” he explained. “But what we said is that this type of decision has to be prepared and implemented in an orderly manner to avoid confusion, disorder, disruption…It has always been the responsibility of the airlines to deal with the disruptions.”

Asked what message he wanted to convey to the Trump Administration, de Juniac said: “We are sending the message to all governments, not only to the Trump Administration, that we think open borders are good for the industry and by the way, good for the economy as well. The message is please, do not close borders to people and trade.”

De Juniac said he was due to meet that afternoon with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Though he declined to reveal the topics he would discuss with Chao, he suggested during his speech that he would argue against a rulemaking process begun last fall by the previous Obama Administration. That effort would have required airlines to share ancillary fare, schedule and availability information with online travel booking sites. Airlines for America (A4A), the trade organization that represents most major U.S. airlines, argues that dictating airline distribution and commercial practices would benefit only third-party ticket agents and not the flying public. On March 2, A4A announced that Trump’s transportation department has suspended the Obama-era regulatory actions on fares and distribution practices.

“I hope that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao will take a fresh look at whether the U.S. government should be dictating to airlines how and where they must display their products,” de Juniac told the summit. “…Deregulation has benefited travelers, the U.S. economy and the competitiveness of its airlines. I hope that the Trump Administration will keep that in focus.”

De Juniac also echoed A4A’s constant refrain that the airline industry is overtaxed; the U.S. organization says that 17 federal taxes and fees represent more than a fifth of the cost of a domestic round-trip ticket. “In a country as big, beautiful and full of opportunity as the U.S., why have a taxation policy that discourages travel?” he asked. “Travel stimulates the economy with tourism dollars and business development. We hope that the Trump Administration will create jobs by dramatically reducing the tax burden on travel.”

The former chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM came down squarely for a proposal to spin-off air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a separate entity, something A4A strongly favors. “The U.S. is falling behind in the introduction of new and more efficient technology,” de Juniac said. “Now is the time to move forward with innovation in the provision of air traffic services. IATA supports the creation of an independent, corporatized non-profit entity to manage U.S. skies. IATA hopes that this will be one of the achievements of the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress.”