China blocks U.S. airlines from resuming flights

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Beijing Daxing International Airport.
Beijing Daxing International Airport.

In refusing to allow U.S. carriers to resume air service to China, the Transportation Department says China is violating their bilateral air services agreement. 

China’s current ban on U.S. airlines stems from the Civil Aviation Authority of China’s March 26 decision to limit foreign airlines to operating just one weekly route to China in an effort to prevent Covid-19 spread. However, only airlines that were still flying to China as of March 12 were allowed to offer that weekly route. U.S. airlines suspended their China service in February. 

As part of the March 26 order, CAAC also limited service by each Chinese airline to just one weekly route to any foreign country.

In its regulatory filing, the DOT said that CAAC’s March 26 notice violates the U.S-China aviation agreement by creating the once-weekly capacity limitation and by giving more favorable treatment to Chinese carriers than to U.S. carriers. The department said it has repeatedly raised those objections with CAAC. 

China’s block on U.S. carriers continues even as it allows Chinese airlines to connect the two countries, the DOT said. The DOT said that United and Delta have stated their desire to resume China service in the next few weeks. Each have submitted applications for service reinstatement to CAAC. 

In response to China’s block on U.S. carriers, the DOT will more closely oversee the service of Chinese carriers to the U.S. The DOT said Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines must file their existing schedules with the department by Wednesday. 

In addition, the carriers must file plans for new service 30 days in advance. The carriers must provide information on routes, departure and arrival times, service frequency and aircraft types in the filings. The DOT said it will use those filings to determine whether operation of those flights “may be contrary to applicable law or adversely affect the public interest.”

In a press briefing Monday, China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said the country’s Covid-19 air service policies are, “open, impartial and transparent.”

“China opposes any possible U.S. disruption of or restriction on Chinese airlines' normal passenger flight operations,” Lijian said, according to the ministry’s website. 

The flare-up between the DOT and CAAC comes amid a general ratcheting up of tensions between the U.S. and China.

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