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Open-skies enforcement good for Kansas workers

Kansas has a rich history of aviation that stretches back all the way to the dawn of flight. In fact, Glenn L. Martin grew up in my hometown of Salina, later starting a business with the Wright brothers, and lending his name to current-day Lockheed Martin.

Our great state houses one of the five aerospace clusters in the world, and over 32,000 Kansans are directly employed by the industry. With our central location and deep aviation roots, Kansas has the potential to benefit even more from a healthy American aviation industry through added jobs and increased connectivity.

However, one major international dispute has the potential not only to stall any future growth in the industry, but also to reduce the ability of Kansans to travel around the United States in an easy and affordable manner.

In the past 10 years, the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have injected their national carriers with over $50 billion in unfair and anti-competitive subsidies. This massive subsidization allows Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates to predatorily expand into America, dumping capacity and distorting the market. These unfair practices force U.S. carriers to abandon once-profitable routes, and every time they do so 1,500 American families lose the stable middle-class income that a career in the aviation industry provides.

While this issue may seem abstract and international, it has a direct effect on communities all across America — Kansas included. American carriers are able to operate smaller and less-profitable domestic routes thanks to the profitability of their long-haul international ones. Gulf trade cheating threatens many of those routes, and therefore directly impacts the availability and cost of routes in and out of Kansas.

The people of our state need to be able to get from city to city and state to state to conduct business, visit family, or just spend a few days away on a nice vacation. Gulf trade violations threatens our ability to do so.

President Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for the enforcement of our trade agreements and the removal of any agreement that takes advantage of American workers. The previous administration chose to ignore these job-killing violations in order to push other priorities, but Trump has made it clear that nothing is of higher priority than free and fair trade policies.

Kansas helped send the president to Washington expressly because we expected him to stand up for American workers, not foreign interests. He took a good first step on this issue a few months ago by negotiating an agreement with Qatar, but more enforcement action is necessary from the administration and Congress.

True enforcement of our aviation trade agreements will allow American carriers to build out further domestic and international routes, potentially increasing Kansas’ connectivity and providing more much-needed aviation jobs. However, if the Gulf carriers are allowed to continue their predatory subsidized activities, U.S. carriers will be forced to cut domestic routes to cover lost international revenue.

This will not only affect Kansans’ ability to travel around the United States in an affordable and time-effective manner, but will also cost well-paid and stable middle-class Kansas aviation jobs.

J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, represents the 69th District in the Kansas House of Representatives.

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