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Emirates, Air Canada clash over access Add to ...

Emirates Airline has plenty to gloat about these days globally, except for encountering a wall of criticism in Canada.

The carrier, owned by the Dubai government, boasts double-decker Airbus A380s and roomy Boeing 777s in its fleet, helping attract travellers connecting through its Dubai hub to far-flung destinations. After humble beginnings in the mid-1980s, Emirates has developed into one of the world's largest carriers, but its dogged quest to conquer new markets has run into fierce opposition from Air Canada.

Air Canada could be pushed into bankruptcy protection if Emirates succeeds in persuading Ottawa to grant daily Toronto-Dubai flights and allows new service to Calgary and Vancouver, the president of the Air Canada Pilots Association warns.

Captain Andy Wilson said Canada's largest carrier is in a precarious financial position and can't afford to lose lucrative traffic to Emirates, which offers connecting flights from its Dubai hub to Asia, for instance. Air Canada already provides Toronto-Beijing service, as well as Vancouver-Tokyo, to name just two routes.

"This is about stealing international traffic that isn't going to Dubai at all," Capt. Wilson said in an interview yesterday, one day after Emirates introduced the 489-seat A380 to its Toronto-Dubai route.

Joseph Galimberti, Air Canada's director of government relations, has been lobbying the federal government to be wary of the impact of Emirates' expansion plans on the Montreal-based carrier.

Mr. Galimberti declined comment, but Capt. Wilson said Air Canada wants to keep a lid on Emirates' Toronto-Dubai A380 service at three times a week. Air Canada also opposes the foreign airline's growth strategy into Western Canada, perhaps three or four departures a week from Calgary and Vancouver. Longer term, Emirates envisages two daily departures from Toronto.

"This would have a direct impact on Air Canada and the Canadian economy," Capt. Wilson said. "This is not a good time to be adding this kind of pressure on Air Canada right now. It's a very bad time. We all know that Air Canada is having financial difficulties."

The 3,000-member pilots union is drafting a pension proposal with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and other unions in an effort to help management deal with Air Canada's $2.9-billion pension solvency shortfall.

An Emirates official denied yesterday that the Dubai-based carrier is competing unfairly against either Air Canada or its Star Alliance partners such as Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which has flights to India.

Emirates' lobbying efforts have included giving MPs souvenir model planes with the company's logo, along with documents designed to alleviate concerns about hurting Air Canada.

"There is no direct competitive overlap between Emirates and Air Canada in the Middle East, Africa or the South Asian subcontinent," according to the documents. "Emirates always looks to generate new demand, and not redistribute existing traffic. It is not Emirates' policy to engage in capacity dumping or predatory pricing."

Emirates president Tim Clark is slated to speak today in Ottawa to the Economic Club of Canada, pressing his company's view that it's being artificially restricted from expanding. He is also expected to show that Dubai isn't merely a hopping-off point, but there are strong links between Canada and the United Arab Emirates, with more than 200 Canadian firms operating in Dubai alone.

Mr. Clark met yesterday with federal Transport Minister John Baird, prompting Capt. Wilson to say he hopes Ottawa will stick to its guns.

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