The Trump administration says it will not ban all flights by Chinese carriers to the US after all, but will continue to allow a limited number of weekly round-trips. The announcement came Friday, June 5, after China’s aviation authority appeared to soften its stance on flights to China by US carriers, following an order issued Thursday by the US Department of Transportation threatening to halt all US flights by Chinese carriers.
The DOT says Chinese carriers would be allowed to operate a total of two round-trips per week to the US, the same number of flights by foreign carriers allowed under the revised rules issued last week by the Civil Aviation Administration of China
The de-escalation of the tensions came one day after the CAAC eased restrictions on foreign carriers. Although US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines were not specifically mentioned in the announcement, the new rules apparently open the door to the possibility each US airline may be able to resume one flight per week into the country.
Previously, foreign flights into the country have been limited to one weekly passenger flight on one route, part of the Chinese government’s efforts to curtail the import of new COVID-19 cases into the country. The restrictions also limited foreign carriers to service that was being offered as of March 12.
Since US carriers had suspended their Chinese routes prior to that date, the rules “effectively precludes US carriers from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to and from China,” according to the Transportation Department. Meanwhile Chinese carriers Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines reduced their schedules to the US, but were still operating about 20 flights per week in February, up to 34 by mid-March. Two other carriers, Sichuan and Xiamen Airlines, currently do not operate into the US.
In May, US carriers United Airlines and Delta Air Lines applied to return to their China routes, but as of last week neither had received a response from the government. Beijing’s lack of action prompted the US to protest, “The Chinese government’s failure to approve their requests is a violation of our Air Transport Agreement.”
The two-flight limit reflects the Transportation Department policy announced last week: “We will allow Chinese carriers to operate the same number of scheduled passenger flights as the Chinese government allows ours.” DOT officials said the US might ease restrictions further if China does the same.
The news comes as the global air travel picture continues to improve. Demand for travel between the US and China has seen some recovery in the past two months, although it remains well below the 300-plus flights per week between the two countries in early January.
The new Chinese rules still impose requirements that could affect US flights into the country. Conditions include temperature checks of all passengers in mid-flight and suspending an airline if five or more passengers test positive for the coronavirus after arriving in China.