Emirates rejects Delta apology over chief's 9/11 claims

Delta CEO Richard Anderson's sparked controversy with his comments about Gulf airlines and the 9/11 attacks (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Dubai (AFP) - Emirates Airline rejected Thursday an apology by Delta over remarks by the US carrier's chief, in which it said he appeared to suggest a link between Gulf carriers and the September 11 attacks.

"Emirates rejects the apology issued by Delta Air Lines in response to comments made by its CEO... which intimated a link between the Gulf carriers and the 9/11 attacks," the Dubai-based carrier said.

Speaking to CNN Monday, Delta chief Richard Anderson lashed out at Gulf carriers -- Emirates, Abu Dhabi's Etihad and Qatar Airways -- when asked about claims that bankruptcy protection for US airlines should be seen as government assistance.

"It’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula," Anderson said.

Out of the 19 hijackers of the four planes used in the attacks, 17 came from the Gulf -- 15 Saudis and two Emiratis.

But Delta said Anderson "didn’t mean to suggest the Gulf carriers or their governments are linked to the 9/11 terrorists. We apologise if anyone was offended."

He "was reacting to claims the Gulf carriers have been making that US airlines received subsidies in the form of payments from the US government after the 9/11 attacks and the bankruptcy proceedings that resulted."

But the Emirates statement said "we believe that the statements made this week by Mr Anderson were deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect.

"This brings into question his credibility as a CEO of a US public listed company, as well as the integrity of the submission which his airline has submitted to the US authorities," it said.

The US big three carriers --Delta, American and United -- are reportedly lobbying the US government to slow the expansion of Gulf carriers into the US market.

Gulf carriers have seized a sizable chunk of transcontinental travel, turning their airports into major hubs on the routes between the West, Asia and Australasia.

Dubai International last year overtook London Heathrow to become the world's largest airport for international travel after handling 70.47 million passengers.