A senior member of president Barack Obama's cabinet has described the attempt by US airlines to restrict open skies agreements as 'an unusual request', but refused to be drawn on the potential impact of an investigation on visitor numbers to America.
Talking to Travel Weekly at the IPW Conference in Orlando, secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker said: "We are in the process of gathering information because we need to have the facts at our fingertips to understand what the circumstance is.
"It is an unusual request from the American carriers so we are in the middle of trying to sort out what we know and what are the facts. I don't think it is appropriate for me to say more as we are going through a process but it is one that we are taking very seriously."
American Airlines, Delta and United have protested about the amount of state assistance received by Gulf carriers, claiming it has created unfair market conditions.
However, Etihad in particular has been vocal in its defence, commissioning a series of reports highlighting its economic contribution to America and assistance received by the US airlines when in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Pritzker was speaking after addressing convention delegates, when she outlined a series of steps being taken to increase visitor numbers to the US to 100 million a year by 2021.
Moves relating to the UK market include improvements to the security process and welcome experience at US airports, and the potential extension of customs pre-clearance schemes to nine countries including the UK.
Under the proposals, passengers boarding flights to the US from Manchester and Heathrow could be processed by US Homeland Security before departure, a system which is currently in place in Ireland.
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