U.S. carriers objected to China’s plan to ease its ban on foreign airlines starting June 8—a course-change that came a day after the Trump administration issued its own limit on Chinese flights.
“While the Chinese response to the Department of Transportation is a step toward parity for U.S. carriers, more is needed to achieve the goals of the agreement,” the trade group Airlines for America said in a statement Thursday.
Flights between the two countries are governed by an agreement first signed in 1980.
The U.S. Transportation Department said it is reviewing China’s response to determine if it needs to take additional action, spokesman Andy Post said Thursday.
The Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration announced Thursday that foreign airlines excluded from an earlier pact will be able to operate one commercial passenger flight to China a week.
China’s CAAC didn’t name any countries or carriers, but the move opens up a chance for U.S. airlines to return for the first time in four months.
While the timing may have been coincidental, it appeared as a concession from China just as tensions between the superpowers intensify. The nations are locked in a tussle that began over trade but escalated to include Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus and its treatment of Hong Kong. The friction puts the phase-one trade deal signed on Jan. 15 in jeopardy, along with billions of dollars in Boeing Co. aircraft sales.
“China and the U.S. should use this opportunity to restore high-level and diplomatic communications as soon as possible,” said Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University. “Both sides should cut short the hawkish and emotional rhetoric, as they’re against the business interests of both.”
Flights can land in 37 Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, where Covid-19 first emerged. That list could change in the future, CAAC said.
If no passengers on a particular route test positive for coronavirus for three consecutive weeks, the operating airline can increase services to twice a week, CAAC said. However, a route would be suspended for a week if five passengers on the same flight tested positive. If 10 test positive, the route will be halted for four weeks.
The Trump administration said China had failed to respond to requests from Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. to resume flights to that nation. American Airlines Group Inc. also had routes to China and was hoping to resume operations by October.
As a result, the agency said, it issued an order on Wednesday that bars four Chinese passenger carriers from operating into and out of the U.S. starting June 16. For each flight permitted into China by a U.S. carrier, the agency will allow one flight by a Chinese carrier.
“The Chinese government’s failure to approve their requests is a violation of our Air Transport Agreement,” the DOT said Wednesday. It also accused China of being “unable to communicate definitively” about when it will allow U.S. carriers to resume flights.