A group of 11 senators have called on the US government to examine whether Qatar Airways’ financial support for Air Italy may violate a commitment by the state-owned airline not to conduct fifth freedom flights to the US.

In a Dec. 3 letter sent to the secretaries of the Departments of Transportation, Commerce and State, the group of Republican senators expressed concern that Qatar Airways may be subsidizing Air Italy—of which it owns a 49% stake—to operate “commercially questionable” daily nonstop services between Milan, Italy, and New York, as well as 4X-weekly services between Milan and Miami, Florida.

The lawmakers said Air Italy’s entry into the “crowded market appears consistent with Qatar Airways’ pattern of adding subsidized capacity in markets where demand is already served.”

The route between Milan and New York is already operated by five other carriers, including Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines, Italy’s national carrier Alitalia, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, Dubai-based Emirates and Chicago-based United Airlines.

Just hours after the senators questioned Air Italy’s ability to launch such services, the Italian airline announced plans to start flights to two more US gateways. It is proposing to start 4X-weekly services to both Los Angeles and San Francisco from Milan Malpensa on April 3 and 10, respectively. The sectors will be operated by Airbus A330-200s that have been leased from Qatar Airways.

“The opening of these new routes from our Malpensa hub is a fundamental component of the development plan for 2019, as our network grows, and we take the next critical step in the business’s development,” Air Italy COO Rossen Dimitrov said.

In 2017, Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in AQA Holding, the parent company of Meridiana Fly, which was later rebranded as Air Italy. Prior to the acquisition, Meridiana mainly served domestic Italian routes, as well as some seasonal international service between Naples and Palermo, Italy, and New York.

The senators said that, absent funding from Qatar Airways, Air Italy “would be unable to launch its new service, just as Qatar Airways would not be viable without direct support from the Qatari government.”

“Therefore, we would respectfully appreciate further examination and a response regarding how these recent developments comport with the Qatari government’s January 2018 commitments to the United States, and the Trump Administration’s commitment to ensure a level playing field for airline workers in the United States,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), David Perdue (R-Georgia), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), James Risch (R-Idaho) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com