US says China limited foreign airlines to one flight per week

World | 4 Jun 2020 11:00 am

The US Transportation Department  said President Donald Trump could put the order banning Chinese airlines from operating scheduled services to the United States into effect before June 16.

The administration had hinted at Wednesday’s move last month, when it protested to Chinese authorities that Beijing was preventing U.S. airlines from competing fairly against Chinese carriers.

The four airlines affected by the order are Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.

Before the pandemic, there were about 325 passenger flights a week between the United States and China, including ones operated by United, Delta and American Airlines. While U.S. carriers stopped their flights, Chinese airlines continued to fly scaled-down schedules between the two countries — 20 flights a week in mid-February and 34 a week by mid-March.

To contain the spread of coronavirus, China limited foreign airlines to one flight per week based on schedules that they operated in mid-March. Since U.S. airlines had already stopped flying to China by then, that effectively has shut them out, the Transportation Department said.

The department said it objected, but that China’s aviation agency said last week it was not violating the air-travel treaty because the same one-flight limit applies to Chinese airlines.

United and Delta announced last month that they hoped to resume flights to China in June, as air travel has begun to recover recently. United wants to fly from San Francisco to Shanghai and Beijing and from Newark, New Jersey, to Shanghai. Delta seeks to resume flights via Seoul to Shanghai from Seattle and Detroit.

“We support and appreciate the U.S. government’s actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness,” Delta spokeswoman Lisa Hanna said.

United Airlines spokesman Frank Benenati said, “We look forward to resuming passenger service between the United States and China when the regulatory environment allows us to do so.”

Messages to a spokesperson in China’s embassy in Washington were not immediately returned, and efforts to reach the person by phone were unsuccessful.

Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University, said the back and forth will increase political tensions between the U.S. and China, “which already seem to have passed a point of no return.”

But Jeff Moon, a former State Department official and now a trade consultant, said the airline dispute was less complicated than other conflicts between the two countries.

“This case can be resolved if cooler heads prevail ... and there is a genuine desire to restore air links,” he said.-AP


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