Emirates is considering restarting a Fifth Freedom route between Hamburg, Germany and New York JFK. It’s a bold move in the “America First” era, but hardly a route so odd that it merits scorn.
Without formal announcement, United suspended service to Hamburg last autumn. After serving Hamburg year-around for several years from Newark via a 757-200, United upgraded the flight to a 767-300 in 2016. In 2017, it reduced service to Hamburg to seasonal (summer only). But when United announced its summer schedule for 2019, Hamburg was not in it.
So it is hardly surprising that Emirates saw a void in service between New York and Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city and a global shipping hub. And it certainly helped that Hamburg’s new mayor traveled to Dubai in an effort to woo Emirates back. Emirates used to operate this route between 2006 and 2008, dropping it during the Great Recession. It never returned. In speaking of his meeting, Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher indicated Emirates’ President Sir Tim Clark was confident his airline could profitably operate the route.
But that’s not the hurdle. The hurdle, as One Mile at a Time notes, is the regulatory burden in both the USA and Germany. Germany’s aviation market is highly-protected. And while Emirates’ technically has authority on the U.S. side to resume this flight, it faces a dishonest smear campaign from people like Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
The narrative from U.S. airlines will be, “If United couldn’t make it on a 757 or 767, how can Emirates make it work on a 777-300 or A380?” Charges of Gulf subsidies destroying U.S. jobs will ensue. But Emirates isn’t United and we never saw United’s raw numbers concerning Hamburg. The decision to cut service could have simply been a cost/benefit analysis of superior aircraft utilization.
I think the biggest hurdle will be German regulators, not U.S. regulators. While the U.S. administration may kowtow to lobbyists and verbally saber-rattle over the threat of Gulf carriers, the President loves Emirates and Dubai. The Transportation Secretary is also a more traditional free-trade neoliberal. On the German side, though, the question is a fair one: doesn’t a nonstop route between New York and Hamburg make sense? If Eurowings, Lufthansa, or United won’t do it, why not Emirates?
Perhaps we’ll get a consolation prize. The very specter of Emirates resuming Fifth Freedom service between New York and Hamburg may prompt United to resume its service or Lufthansa to start service, as it does between New York and Berlin (both non-hubs). Absent that, I don’t see how Emirates can be turned away on a long-term basis.
Do you think Emirates should be permitted to fly between New York and Hamburg?