China easing airline access amid conflict with Washington

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China-US relations
Photo Credit: Pavlo Lys/Shutterstock

China will allow foreign airlines not currently serving the country to resume service on June 8.

The new order, announced on the Civil Aviation Authority of China’s (CAAC) website, could mean U.S. airlines will be able to resume service to the country. It came following the U.S. Department of Transportation's announcement that it would prohibit Chinese airlines from flying to the U.S. beginning June 16. 

The move also marks a de-escalation in a conflict that threatens to leave the world’s two largest economies without a nonstop air connection.

In its new order, CAAC said that all foreign carriers not currently authorized to serve the country could begin offering one flight per week to the entry point of their choice beginning June 8. The directive eases a March 26 Covid-19-related order that had limited service to the country only to carriers that were flying to China as of March 12. U.S. airlines were left out of that order, since global carriers American, Delta and United suspended their China service in February.

In a press conference Thursday, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan stopped short of saying the order means U.S. carrier service can resume to China. 

“The CAAC and the U.S. Department of Transportation have been in close communication regarding flights between the two countries. We have had some progress. Now China has announced the policy adjustment. We hope the US will not create obstacles for resolving this issue,” Lijan said, according to the ministry’s website. 

Similarly, the DOT has not said whether CAAC’s new directive will lead to it revoking the pending June 16 ban on service by Chinese airlines. In its order Wednesday, the department had said the ban is necessary to restore the competitive balance between U.S. and Chinese carriers. 

If left to stand, the DOT directive would bring a halt to the one weekly U.S. flight currently operated by Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Beijing Capital Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.

Under the new CAAC directive, foreign airlines flying to China will be rewarded if they avoid transporting Covid-19 infected passengers, but punished for transporting too many infected customers. Airlines that have zero passengers test positive for the virus after entering China for three straight weeks will be able to add a second weekly flight. Conversely, if an airline has five passengers test positive after a flight, the route will be suspended for a week. Ten positive tests would result in a four-week suspension.

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