US accuses China of blocking US flights, demands action

WASHINGTON: The US government late on Friday accused the Chinese government of making it impossible for US airlines to resume service to China and ordered four Chinese air carriers to file flight schedules with the US government.

The administration of President Donald Trump stopped short of imposing restrictions on Chinese air carriers but said talks with China had failed to produce an agreement.

The US Transportation Department, which is trying to persuade China to allow the resumption of US passenger airline service there, earlier this week briefly delayed a few Chinese charter flights for not complying with notice requirements.

In an order posted on a US government website and seen by Reuters, the department noted Delta Air Lines and United Airlines want to resume flights to China in June, even as Chinese carriers have continued US flights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The order said Air China, China Eastern Airlines Corp, China Southern Airlines Co, Hainan Airlines Holding Co and their subsidiaries must file schedules and other details of flights by May 27.

The department warned it could find Chinese flights “contrary to applicable law or adversely affect the public interest”.

United declined to comment. The other US and Chinese carriers, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) and China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The department said in a statement it has “protested this situation to the Chinese authorities, repeatedly objecting to China’s failure to let US carriers fully exercise their rights and to the denial to US carriers of their right to compete on a fair and equal basis with Chinese carriers” and called the situation “critical”.

On Jan 31, the US government barred from entry most non-US citizens who had been in China within the previous 14 days but did not impose any restrictions on Chinese flights. Major US carriers voluntarily decided to halt all passenger flights to China in February.

Delta and United are flying cargo flights to China.

Delta had requested approval for a daily flight to Shanghai Pudong airport from Detroit and Seattle, while United had asked to fly daily to Shanghai Pudong from San Francisco and Newark airport near New York and between San Francisco and Beijing.

The number of weekly scheduled combination flights operated between the two countries by US and Chinese carriers fell from 325 in January to 20, by just the four Chinese carriers, in mid-February, before the carriers increased them to 34 in mid-March, the US order said.

The CAAC in late March said Chinese airlines could maintain just one weekly passenger flight on one route to any given country and that carriers could fly no more than the number of flights they were flying on March 12, according to the US order.

But because US passenger airlines had stopped all flights by March 12, the CAAC notice “effectively precludes US carriers from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to China,” the department said.

CAAC told the US government during a May 14 call that China is considering removing the March 12 schedule pre-condition but the “restriction to once-weekly service on one route to China would remain in place,” the order said.

Earlier on Friday, the US Commerce Department added 33 Chinese companies and institutions to an economic blacklist for alleged human rights violations and to address US national security concerns involving weapons of mass destruction and other military activities.