Emirates pushing Canada on air travel

The United Arab Emirates is warning that Canada's refusal to grant more landing rights to Emirates air carriers will affect the relations between the two countries.

The United Arab Emirates is warning that Canada's refusal to grant more landing rights to Emirates air carriers will "undoubtedly" affect the relations between the two countries.

The warning, issued Sunday by the U.A.E. ambassador to Canada, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Ghafli, comes amid media reports that the Emirates government has threatened to retaliate over the failed aviation deal by denying Canada's military access to an air base near Dubai.

The Canadian government had little to say on the matter. A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said in an email that the government does not comment on operational matters concerning the deployment of the Canadian Forces abroad.

But the government did indicate Canada is "fully capable of supporting its military commitments in Afghanistan."

The U.A.E. diplomat said his country was disappointed that, despite intensive negotiations over the last five years, the two countries have been unable to reach an agreement to increase the number of flights.

"The U.A.E. entered negotiations in good faith on the understanding that a solution would be reached and that constructive ideas would be brought to the negotiating table. The fact that this has not come about undoubtedly affects the bilateral relationship," Al-Ghafli said in a statement issued by the U.A.E. Embassy.

6 flights 'not enough'

A 1999 agreement allows Emirates Airlines and Ethiad Airways to fly up to six times a week into Canada. But the U.A.E. government says that with 27,000 Canadians living in that country, and a significant trade relationship — the U.A.E. is Canada's largest trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa — six flights per week are not enough.

Air Canada has objected to increased service to Canadian destinations. It says that in certain areas, such as Dubai, there is very little originating traffic that comes to Canada.

The airline claims that carriers like Emirates Airlines pick up Canadians and take them to third countries with a stopover in Dubai, and there is no reciprocal benefit to Canadian carriers.

Emirates Airlines says it's unfortunate that the Canadian government doesn't see the need for more services from the carrier.

"We are disappointed by this response and are working hard to convince our many friends in Ottawa on the case for more business between Dubai and Canada via a progressive increase in services," the airline says in a statement posted on its website.

The airline is asking its passengers to push the issue with the Canadian government by writing to Transport Minister Chuck Strahl.

Meanwhile, the Consumers' Association of Canada says Canadian passengers are caught up in a diplomatic fuss that is eating away at their rights. The association says allowing carriers from the Emirates to expand in Canadian markets would be "very beneficial" to consumers.

Protect consumers, CAC head says

"We've got a situation where somehow diplomatic matters for Canada are being linked to the interest of Canada's major airline," said association president Bruce Cran.

"It doesn't make sense at all. We're wondering when someone will step in and protect consumers' rights here."

Cran said the argument that Air Canada would lose a significant number of passengers if the two U.A.E. airlines were allowed into the country more frequently is moot. 

"We're talking about a destination to which Air Canada does not even fly (directly)," said Cran, adding that there was no reason for Canadian consumers to be forced to give preference to Air Canada's Star Alliance carriers, which operate competing routes through Europe.

"Consumers are getting the raw end of the stick all the way along here," he said.

BlackBerry dispute settled

It is the second time in recent months that Canada and the U.A.E. have engaged in diplomatic wrestling over business disputes. 

Last August, the Emirates government threatened to shut down email, messaging and web browsing on the BlackBerry devices, after Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion refused to allow access to encrypted information sent by users.

BlackBerry data is automatically shipped to the company's computers abroad, and it is difficult for local authorities to monitor illegal activity or abuse.

Both the Canadian and U.S. governments tried to help broker a compromise between the U.A.E. and RIM, worried that the ban could affect international trade and diplomacy. Half a million local users and travellers with foreign BlackBerrys would have been affected. 

The Emirates government backed off the threat last Friday, just days before the ban was set to take effect. The Gulf country's telecommunications regulator confirmed that a deal had been reached with RIM that brought the devices into compliance with local laws.

It wasn't clear what concessions, if any, the Canadian device maker made to avert the ban.