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Lufthansa aircraft sit on the tarmac at Munich's airport on July 28, 2008. (MICHAELA REHLE/REUTERS)
Lufthansa aircraft sit on the tarmac at Munich's airport on July 28, 2008. (MICHAELA REHLE/REUTERS)

German airline enters fray, bolsters Ottawa's stand against UAE Add to ...

A dispute not unlike the one between Canada and the United Arab Emirates over additional landing rights is being played out now in Europe with Lufthansa wanting to keep a Persian Gulf airline in check.

This latest spat between the German airline and the Dubai-based Emirates has not gone unnoticed here in Canada, prompting a senior Air Canada official to note the Conservative government has some company.

Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee said the German airline's bid serves "as further confirmation that Canada was not only correct in what it did but also that it is not alone in wanting to ensure fair access to air rights."

According to multiple news reports Lufthansa has been successful in having Emirates denied landing positions at Berlin's new airport, which is to open in June of next year. Lufthansa argues that the Dubai fleet's access to German airports has led to "unequal" air traffic between Germany and the UAE. (Emirates flies to four airports in Germany compared to one destination in Dubai for Lufthansa.)

The imbroglio in Canada, meanwhile, just won't go away. Last week, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae visited the UAE to meet with officials and take his own read of the dispute. He thinks a deal can be worked out, with any new landing slots be phased in over time.

His visit raised eyebrows in the Prime Minister's Office, where Harper officials were worried that the opposition MP was involving himself - and not in a good way - in Canadian foreign policy.

The relationship between the Canadian and UAE governments is poor right now. In retaliation for refusing the landing rights, the Gulf state has banned the Canadian military from using Camp Mirage, a staging base for Afghanistan that will cost Ottawa about $300-million to relocate. In addition, the UAE has slapped expensive visas on Canadians visiting the country.

But the Harper government has said that "tens of thousands of jobs" of Canadian workers would be at stake if it allowed additional landing rights to Emirates and another UAE airline, Etihad Airways.

In a blog post, Mr. Rae charged the Conservatives were protectionist and playing favourites with Air Canada. "It is surely an ironic twist that the old Reform Party and Stephen Harper have become advocates of closed skies and pure and simple protectionism," Mr. Rae wrote. "Canadian public policy on Air Canada and open skies needs to be clarified."

Mr. Dee, meanwhile, took exception to the Rae blog comments, saying that the Liberal MP should be "speaking up for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend directly or indirectly on a strong and vibrant Air Canada and Canadian airline industry."

Elsewhere, Emirates has been denied additional landing rights in Paris by the French government. And South Korea has also refused the airline new slots.

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