U.A.E. wanted only Toronto air access: sources

The United Arab Emirates demanded more landing rights for its two national carriers only in Toronto during negotiations with Canada, CBC News has learned.

The United Arab Emirates demanded more landing rights for its two national carriers only in Toronto during negotiations with Canada, CBC News has learned.

A government source told Evan Solomon of the CBC's Power & Politics that the U.A.E. demanded open access only to Toronto's Pearson airport and that Ottawa responded with an offer of more access to the airports in Calgary and Vancouver. 

But the U.A.E. only wanted Toronto and used Canada's Camp Mirage military base near Dubai as a bargaining chip, the source said.

The two countries couldn't agree and talks broke down, resulting in the U.A.E.'s decision last month to boot Canada from the covert military base that it had been using to stage operations in Afghanistan. 

But another source familiar with the negotiations gave a different view, saying that the Canadian government negotiated "in bad faith."

That source said that last August Canada offered each U.A.E. carrier a total of seven new flights, but none to Toronto. When that offer was not accepted, a second offer came: still more new flights to anywhere but still not to Toronto. The carriers also would have had to cut capacity in order to get the landing rights. The U.A.E. refused that offer as well.

A deal could have been done if each carrier had got one more flight per day to Toronto. But that was never on the table so the talks collapsed, the source close to the talks said.

The government source affirmed that the U.A.E. only wanted flights to Toronto, which was one of the reasons the deal collapsed. 

A 1999 agreement allows Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways to fly up to six times a week into Canada. But the U.A.E. government said 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 any increased service by the two U.A.E. airlines to Canadian destinations. It has said that in certain areas, such as Dubai, there is very little originating traffic that comes to Canada.

The airline claimed that U.A.E. carriers like Emirates Airlines picked up Canadians and took them to third countries with a stopover in Dubai, and there was no reciprocal benefit to Canadian carriers.

However, the government source told CBC that Air Canada was not consulted during talks between the two nations.