Emirates Airline, the largest international carrier, is planning an expansion that would make the U.S. market one of its three largest sources of revenue, said Tim Clark, president of the Dubai-based carrier.

Although the U.S. now drives just 7 percent of Emirates’ sales, the region is “hugely important” to the carrier, Clark told the World Routes Strategy Summit in Chicago yesterday. The airline is scouting new cities to add to its network after beginning service last month in Chicago, the carrier’s ninth U.S. destination.

U.S. airline executives, including Richard Anderson, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines Inc., and union leaders have been wary of Emirates, claiming the airline unfairly benefits from subsidies by the United Arab Emirates. Since its mid-1980s founding with funding from Dubai’s rulers, the carrier has grown to a fleet of 230 widebody jets, flying 43 million people to 150 destinations each year.

Emirates, which operates the largest fleets of Boeing Co. 777 jetliners and Airbus Group NV’s A380 superjumbo jets, has orders for another 260 long-range aircraft to help its expansion into the U.S., Clark said.

He dismissed critics who have suggested Emirates enjoys an unfair advantage.

“If there’s any subsidy, it’s because the government does the right thing,” Clark said, pointing to new spending to expand Dubai’s airport infrastructure.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Johnsson in Chicago at jjohnsson@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net.

Photo Credit: An Emirates A380. Quentin Douchet / Wikimedia Commons