U.S. retaliates against China with airline ban

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China-US relations
Photo Credit: Pavlo Lys/Shutterstock

The U.S. will ban mainland Chinese airlines from serving the U.S., beginning June 16. 

The move comes as China continues to block U.S. carriers from resuming China service under a March 26 decision by the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) that was designed to protect China from Covid-19 spread. 

It also comes amid a broader ratcheting up of tensions between the U.S. and China that has played out over the course of the pandemic. 

In an order issued Wednesday, the Transportation Department said that the block on Chinese airline service is necessary to restore the competitive balance between U.S. and Chinese carriers. The move followed a May 22 DOT order proclaiming that China’s actions violate the bilateral air service agreement between the two countries. United and Delta were both aiming to recommence China service early this month, the department said. 

Barring a quick resolution to the dispute, Wednesday’s order will leave no nonstop service between countries with the world’s two largest economies. No airlines based outside the U.S. or China has flown a U.S.-China route in the last 20 years, according to the flight data analytics company OAG. 

Specifically, the order will bring an end to U.S. flights operated by Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Beijing Capital Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. Each of those carriers were already limited to providing just one flight per week to the U.S. under the March 26 order by the Chinese government. That order also limited non-Chinese airlines to operating just one weekly route to China. However, to be eligible, airlines had to be flying to China at the time the order was issued. American, Delta and United suspended their China service in February. 

The DOT said that it received a May 25 letter from CAAC disputing that it is violating the U.S-China air service agreement. China’s aviation authority urged the DOT to revoke its May 22 order. Ominously, the letter also said that CAAC does not “wish to be obliged to respond by taking countermeasures on U.S. carriers,” according to the DOT.  

“Our overriding goal is not the perpetuation of this situation, but rather an improved environment wherein the carriers of both parties will be able to exercise fully their bilateral rights,” the new DOT order reads. “Should the CAAC adjust its policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers, the department is fully prepared to revisit the action it has announced in this order.”

The ban does not apply to Hong Kong airlines.

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