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June 22, 2020 2:00 PM, EDT

US Rejects Additional Flights Sought by Chinese Airlines

A passenger wearing a protective mask walks through the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on June 13.A passenger wearing a protective mask walks through the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on June 13. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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U.S. officials rejected additional flights proposed by Chinese airlines but said they would reconsider if the Beijing government adjusts its policies affecting American passenger carriers.

In a statement late June 19, the Transportation Department said it disapproved service schedules submitted by four China-based carriers that currently are allowed to make four combined flights to the U.S. each week, plus additional proposals submitted by three other Chinese carriers. Shares of three China-based airlines fell in Hong Kong trading June 22.

The department said the action was “effectively an administrative action designed to maintain the parity in scheduled passenger services between U.S. and Chinese carriers” that it announced earlier in the week.

American officials have relayed to their counterparts in Beijing that the move is a “procedural matter only and that it should not be viewed as an escalation on our part,” the Transportation Department said.

The department added that it “continues to indicate our willingness to revisit our action should the Chinese aviation authorities adjust their policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers in which both they and the Chinese carriers could fully exercise their bilateral rights.”

Delta Air Lines Inc. said Monday that it would restart flights to China on June 25, becoming the first U.S. carrier to re-establish service since a temporary suspension in February because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twice-weekly service will resume between Seattle and Shanghai, with a stop in South Korea, Delta said in a statement. Next month, the company will operate flights once a week from Seattle and Detroit, also via South Korea.

Representatives from the Civil Aviation Administration of China and three of the carriers currently operating scheduled passenger services to the U.S. — Air China Ltd., China Southern Airlines Co. and China Eastern Airlines Corp. — didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. A representative for Xiamen Airlines Co., which operates a weekly round-trip flight from the southeast Chinese city to Los Angeles, declined to comment.

China Southern’s shares declined 3.8% in Hong Kong on June 22, while China Eastern dropped 3.1% and Air China 2.2%.

The balance allowing four flights to the U.S. was struck in recent weeks and came after weeks of diplomatic wrangling on passenger flights between the two nations when the Trump administration doubled the number of operations permitted to and from the U.S. by China-based carriers.

The U.S. had earlier threatened to cut off all flights from China if the Beijing government didn’t stop blocking American carriers. Three U.S. airlines, which had halted flights to China earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, wanted to resume service. But both sides have gradually expanded the number of flights.

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