U.S. Returns Favor As China Restricts U.S. Carriers Air Access Into Chinese Airports

From the South China Press* newspaper published on June 3rd comes the news that the U.S. government would bar Chinese airlines from flying passengers to U.S. destinations starting on June 16th in retaliation for Beijing’s refusal to let American carriers resume service to China.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requested permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) for U.S. carriers to resume flights to the country. But the CAAC merely extended an order that limited all domestic and foreign carriers to international flight schedules in place as of March 12th.

In doing so, CAAC was rejecting DOT’s request. U.S. carriers had voluntarily halted passenger service to China in February, as part of efforts to block the spread of COVID-19, after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered immigration authorities to bar most non-U.S. citizens travelling from China.

The U.S.-based Delta Air Lines and United Airlines maintained some cargo service to China, and have sought permission to resume passenger service this month.

DOT’s order applies to Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines Holding and all of their subsidiaries. Air China, China Eastern and China Southern have continued operating direct passenger flights to the U.S., although at reduced frequencies owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

Keeping U.S. air carriers out of China’s passenger market violates a bilateral air transport agreement signed in 1980, after Washington first established formal diplomatic relations with China.

“In establishing an arbitrary ‘baseline’ date of March 12, 2020 … the CAAC notice effectively precludes U.S. carriers from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to and from China and operating to the full extent of their bilateral rights,” the announcement said.

DOT also contended that China was circumventing its own rule through the use of charter flights.

“Chinese carriers may be using passenger charter operations as a way of circumventing the CAAC Notice limitations on scheduled passenger service and thereby further increasing their advantage over U.S. carriers,” the department said, citing information “learned through diplomatic channels”.

On May 22nd, the Trump administration accused China’s government of making it impossible for U.S. airlines to resume service to China and ordered four Chinese carriers to file flight schedules with the U.S. government.

The Chinese carriers operate no more than one scheduled flight a week to the U.S. but also have flown a significant number of additional charter flights, often to help Chinese students return home.

The Trump administration is also cracking down on Chinese passenger airline charter flights and will warn carriers not to expect approvals.

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