NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- First of all, let us say that Chicago is among the most important U.S. cities for commercial aviation. United ( UAL) has its headquarters, 14,000 employees and its largest hub in Chicago. American ( AAL) has a hub and 8,800 employees. Chicago has two major airports including O'Hare International, the world's fifth-busiest airport.
So one would expect that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would take an interest in representing the interests of the U.S. airline industry, which employs tens of thousands of his constituents and plays a major role in assuring that Chicago remains one of the world's premier cities.
That is why on May 6 Emanuel sent three cabinet members a letter, in which he backed American, Delta (DAL) and United in their campaign to minimize the damage caused to their businesses by the three Gulf carriers, who are aggressively expanding service to the U.S.
According to a study commissioned by the three U.S. carriers, the three Gulf airlines -- Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways -- are subsidized by their governments and take advantage of liberal Open Skies agreements to flood the U.S. with capacity - in effect, dumping airline seats into a foreign market, an unprofitable practice enabled by subsidies.
On Tuesday, Emirates CEO Tim Clark responded to Emanuel in a letter of his own. He made the point that years before Emirates began Dubai-Charlotte service in August 2014, Chicago lobbied aggressively for the service.
"We were first approached to fly to Chicago in 2010 and lobbied more than a dozen times thereafter, not only by O'Hare itself but also by the Chicago Department of Aviation," Clark wrote.
When the service began, Emanuel publicly welcomed it. "We were overwhelmed by the genuinely warm welcome we received," Clark wrote.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the city's conduct has been inconsistent. However, it is worth examining some of the forces at work in commercial aviation.
First, the role of airports and city leaders is to seek more air service, especially international service, because that provides more travel options for area residents and benefits the local economy by enabling travel and trade. So, of course, Emanuel welcomed the service. That is part of his job.
But very often, the interests of airports and the interests of airlines, particularly hub airlines, diverge. People outside the airline industry never seem to realize this, but airports and their hub airlines don't always agree, Airports want more flights and more options for their passengers, while airlines, particularly hub airlines, want to maximize the value of their own operations.