US bans Chinese passenger airlines in new spat with Beijing

Issued on: 03/06/2020 – 23:18

Washington on Wednesday ordered the suspension of all flights by Chinese airlines into and out of the United States after Beijing failed to allow American carriers to resume services to China.


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The move adds to a growing friction between the world's two largest economies amid the coronavirus crisis and in the wake of a two-year trade war that has not been fully resolved.

The US action takes effect June 16 but could be implemented sooner if President Donald Trump orders it, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said.

The suspension applies to seven Chinese civilian carriers, although only four currently are running services to US cities, including Air China and China Eastern Airlines, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said.

"US carriers have asked to resume passenger service, beginning June 1st. The Chinese government's failure to approve their requests is a violation of our Air Transport Agreement," the department said in a statement.

US air carriers had sharply reduced or suspended service to China amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines submitted applications at the beginning of May to resume flights but have been unable to receive authorization from Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), the DOT said.

The latest spat between Washington and Beijing centers partially on the CAAC deciding to determine the flight limit for foreign airlines based on their activity as of March 12.

But US carriers had suspended all flights by that date due to the pandemic — meaning their cap was calculated to be zero — while Chinese-flagged flights continued.

The "arbitrary 'baseline' date… effectively precludes US carriers from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to and from China," the US order says.

The department also said there are indications Chinese airlines are using charter flights to get around the limit of one flight a week to increase their advantage over US carriers.

"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 order said.

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In early January 2020, before the pandemic struck, US and Chinese carriers operated approximately 325 weekly flights between the two countries.

US carriers praised the administration's move

"We support and appreciate the US government's actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness," Delta spokesperson Lisa Hanna said.

And Katherine Estep of industry trade group Airlines for America said the order should "ensure fair and equal opportunity for passenger airlines with respect to service to and from China."

Airline shares jump on Wall Street, with United gaining 12.5 percent in an upbeat market.

The fight over air travel comes after the US imposed restrictions on Chinese telecom giant Huawei and ordered a probe into the actions of Chinese companies listed on American financial markets.

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