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Emirates Airline steps up lobbying for landing rights

Published: Thursday, 04/19/2012 5:04 pm EDT
Last Updated: Friday, 04/20/2012 11:47 am EDT

Emirates Airline, the largest airline in the Middle East, is stepping up its lobbying efforts to obtain increased landing rights in Canada by holding meetings with Conservative MPs, especially those in western ridings close to cities the airline hopes to add as destinations.

The airline is lobbying the government for an “Open Skies” agreement between Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and amendments to the UAE-Canada Air Service Agreement. Emirates Airline flies out of Dubai and currently has the right to land and take off from the Toronto Pearson International Airport three times a week.

Emirates wants increased landing rights in Toronto and landing rights in other Canadian cities, such as Calgary and Vancouver.

On March 5, the airline communicated in person or over the phone with 10 MPs who are all Conservative, seven of whom come from ridings in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, according to communication reports filed with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying (OCL). Reports with the OCL do not have to specify if the contacts are meetings or phone calls.

The airline has been lobbying Canadian MPs and ministers since 2008, but the recent communications reports show the airline has been ramping up its efforts by contacting more MPs in one day than ever before.

The western Conservative MPs that were contacted on March 5 are Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Alta.), Rob Clarke (Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River, Sask.), Wai Young (Vancouver South, B.C.), Lee Richardson (Calgary Centre, Alta.), Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Sask.), Brian Storseth (Westlock-St. Paul, Alta.) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment Michelle Rempel (Calgary Centre-North, Alta.).

The airline also met with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Rick Dykstra (St. Catharines, Ont.) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges-Markham, Ont.) and Conservative Ontario MP Patrick Brown (Barrie, Ont.).

None of the MPs were available for comment. Emirates did not respond to requests for an interview.

President Timothy Clark and two other officials are the airline’s in-house lobbyists registered on the file. The airline has also been working with Temple Scott Associates in Ottawa since 2008, the registry shows. Temple Scott Associates has six lobbyists currently registered on the file.

Emirates' advocacy strategy for landing rights also includes a public relations campaign with a page on the airline’s website devoted to "Emirates and Canada."

On the page, the airline outlines key economic and trade arguments for increased landing rights, a statement on how increased landing rights for Emirates Airline would not disadvantage Air Canada, as well as a two page document entitled “Canada and Emirates Airline: Busting myths. A reasonable request.”

Canada has a Blue Sky Policy, developed in 2006, which aims for first-time or expanded air service agreements with other countries to boost tourism, trade and economic benefits.

The Canadian government and the UAE were not able to find an agreement under the policy. The failure to reach an agreement on increased landing rights for Emirates eventually escalated into a diplomatic dispute in 2010 when Canada was asked to withdraw from Camp Mirage in the UAE and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was denied permission to fly over UAE airspace on a trip back from Afghanistan.

Despite the dispute, the airline's lobbying continued. Last year, it was even able to contact Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism) Maxime Bernier and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty several times, according to the registry.

Baird and the foreign minister of the UAE Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahan met in Ottawa March 5 and discussed the landing rights among other issues. They met and held a news conference the same day Emirates met with the 10 MPs.

The Vancouver International Airport Authority’s president Larry Berg is registered to lobby for a Blue Sky Policy agreement between Canada and the UAE to increase flights to and from Dubai.

The airport authority is “advocating to have more liberal aviation agreements with key trading partners; such as negotiate agreements with United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and other Asian Nations,” the registration shows.

Canadian charter airline Enerjet is also registered on the issue, lobbying for a bilateral agreement that would allow Emirates to increase flights to Canada and in turn allow Enerjet to fly to Dubai, president Tim Morgan said in a phone interview with The Lobby Monitor. Enerjet has no reported communications with bureaucrats or elected officials.

Not in favour of Canada providing Emirates Airline with increased landing rights is Air Canada, which is part of the Star Alliance network of airlines. Emirates is not part of Star Alliance.

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said the company's position on Emirates' has been clear all along.

“The current bilateral between Canada and the UAE allows for more than enough capacity to carry all the point to point traffic between our respective companies,” Fitzpatrick said in an email to The Lobby Monitor.

Air Canada is registered to lobby on “International Trade - As regards Canada's international trade and aviation agreements as per Transport Canada's Blue Sky policy through negotiating mandates extended to Canada's Chief Air Negotiator.” The registration does not specify whether it is regarding the UAE or Emirates Airline.

The National Airlines Council of Canada, whose members include Air Canada, Air Transat and Westjet, was actively lobbying in 2011 against an agreement between Canada and Emirates Airline, and for “greater consultation with aviation industry when government negotiates bilateral air transport agreements, as per the Blue Sky policy framework.” It no longer has an active registration with the OCL.

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