U.S. Eases Flight Ban on Chinese Airlines

Date: Monday, June 8, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Chinese carriers will be able to make two flights weekly to and from U.S. after China allowed some U.S. service

The Trump administration eased off plans to block passenger flights by mainland Chinese airlines to the U.S. on Friday, after China said it would permit some passenger flights by U.S. airlines.

The U.S. Department of Transportation had earlier said it would bar Chinese airlines from flying passengers to and from the U.S., saying Beijing had failed to approve resumption of these routes by U.S. airlines.

Beijing quickly responded by saying it would ease flight restrictions on foreign carriers, allowing them one weekly flight to one city.

The DOT on Friday revised its original order, due to take effect June 16, and said it would allow a total of two round-trip flights a week by Chinese airlines. But the DOT said China’s restrictions still impaired the rights of U.S. carriers to operate flights under an agreement that governs air travel between the two countries. 

While the order eases the threatened passenger flight ban, it will still cut in half the number of flights that Chinese carriers currently operate. Chinese carriers are permitted to operate a total of four weekly passenger flights to the U.S. under the limits Chinese aviation authorities set in March in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The DOT said it would be willing to revisit its restrictions if Chinese authorities made further adjustments. Cargo flights haven’t been limited by either country.

“The Department’s 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 department said in its revised order. “The most recent [Civil Aviation Administration of China] action has not created that environment.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Currently four Chinese airlines— Air China Ltd., China Southern Airlines Co., Xiamen Airlines and China Eastern Airlines Corp.—operate scheduled passenger flights between the two countries, the Transportation Department said. Others had intended to resume service in the coming months.

The threat of an outright ban on passenger flights came as U.S.-China relations are at their worst in more than three decades, with the world’s largest economies at odds over technology, trade and Hong Kong’s political status.

But the air service dispute escalated rapidly and then deflated just as fast, with partial concessions by both sides.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said Thursday that 95 foreign airlines would be cleared to fly to one Chinese destination once a week starting Monday, mirroring rules already in place permitting Chinese airlines to fly one weekly service to foreign countries.

China had set limits on international service for Chinese carriers and for foreign airlines flying to the country in March.

The DOT argued that those limits effectively keep U.S. airlines out, since they set caps on flying based on schedules in mid-March, when the U.S. carriers had already suspended flights to and from China.

Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. have sought to resume service to China this month after suspending flying there earlier this year, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. United is seeking to restore three China routes, while Delta aims to restore two.

When those plans weren’t approved, the U.S. accused China of violating an agreement that governs air travel between the two countries.

There are other unresolved issues that could impact whether U.S. airlines resume flying, including China’s plan to penalize foreign carriers when arriving passengers test positive for Covid-19.


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