Rarely is a single flight so contentious. But with one daily flight between New York John F. Kennedy Airport and Milan’s Malpensa Airport, Emirates has irked some of the major players in the U.S. aviation industry.
The flight started in October and takes advantage of Fifth Freedom rights, which allows the Dubai-based airline to operate some segments that do not originate or terminate in the United Arab Emirates, as long as the flight eventually reaches the UAE. How these rights are allotted are painfully complicated, but the unusual routes generally must be approved by governments on at least one side. So an airline can’t simply start a flight between two cities not in its own country without clearing considerable bureaucratic hurdles. In this case, the Milan flight was approved by the Italian government. The flight also, eventually, continues on to Dubai, which is required under Fifth Freedom rules.
The potential problem here is that American and Delta also fly between JFK and Milan. This was pointed out by the Airline Pilots Association, which argues that the Emirates flight will hurt American jobs. But it’s not so much the one flight that bothers U.S. interests. It’s the fear that Emirates will start more. According to the Centre For Aviation, Emirates operates a bunch of Fifth Freedom flights in Australia and Asia.
This week, while has was in Los Angeles to celebrate new A380 service to Dubai, I asked Hubert Frach, an Emirates senior vice president for commercial operations, whether the airline intends to seek more fifth freedom rights to the United States. But he said Milan was a special situation, in part because there was no ultra premium carrier already flying the route. (Emirates views its service standards as above most of the world’s carriers, and it is true that no airline already on the route can match the carrier’s first class cabin.)
“It’s always opportunity driven,” Frach said, saying JFK-Milan was undeserved market. “The market has to be ripe for that. If it is, the flight with materialize.”
Frach said the airline will continue to evaluate routes, but said it will still operate the vast majority of its flights from its Dubai hub. And he noted it is not always easy to receive Fifth Freedom rights.
“It’s an not overarching business strategy for Emirates,” he said.
If you’re wondering, U.S. airlines have plenty of their own Fifth Freedom flights. Delta, for example, operates a daily flight between Amsterdam and Mumbai. It’s Delta flight 50.