U.S. Reciprocates on China’s Flight Ban Concession

 - June 5, 2020, 1:40 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will allow Chinese carriers to operate two round trips a week to the U.S. under a modification to a June 3 order that originally barred their operation into the country. The order revision comes a day after China modified its own prohibition on U.S. carriers to allow them to operate the same number of weekly round trips.

However, the DOT concession doesn’t completely restore Chinese airlines’ right to fly to the U.S. because, said the department in its June 5 ruling, the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s revised notice continues to preclude U.S. carriers from fully exercising their rights under the 1980 civil aviation agreement between the two countries.

Moreover, said the DOT, the restriction of U.S. carriers to two flights a week fails to prove “equality of opportunity,” given that Chinese carriers can each operate as many as four weekly flights to the U.S. under certain incentives tied to China’s order.

“As a general matter, we are troubled by China’s continued unilateral dictation of the terms of the U.S.-China scheduled passenger air transportation market without respect for the rights of U.S. carriers under the agreement,” said the DOT.

The CAAC plans to introduce a mechanism effective June 8 that would reward airlines whose passengers all test negative for Covid-19 for three weeks in a row by allowing them to increase the number of flights to two per week. Meanwhile, if the number of passengers testing positive reaches five, the CAAC will enact a weeklong suspension of the airline’s flights, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. If the number of passengers testing positive reaches 10, then the suspension would last four weeks.

The original Chinese ban on U.S. carriers resulted from a clause in an order limiting its own airlines to one weekly flight to any country and foreign airlines to one weekly passenger flight into China based on a particular airline’s March 12 schedule. However, U.S. carriers suspended passenger flights into China in early February due to declining demand, meaning the order prevented them from reinstating service, while Chinese airlines could maintain service to and from each foreign market served as of the March 12 baseline date, including the U.S.  

The June 5 DOT order modification effectively reinstates approvals of a portion of the existing schedules filed by Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and Xiamen Airlines. U.S. carriers had planned to reinstate scheduled passenger services to China in early June. Before the Chinese ban, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines announced their intent to resume scheduled passenger services on various routes and submitted applications to the CAAC at the beginning of May 2020.