China may increase US flights amid aviation tension: insiders
Published: Jun 10, 2020 07:08 PM

An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft from Los Angeles lands at Washington Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C., the United States on March 13, 2019. (Xinhua/Ting Shen)

China's civilian air regulator said on Wednesday that it is communicating with relevant countries on the adjustment of international passenger flights, and such flights are expected to increase in the near future, a response widely seen as China moving to increase US flights amid bilateral tension over the issue.

CAAC has been in talks with "relevant countries" regarding increasing flights and those talks could yield positive results soon, Xiong Jie, an official from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Wednesday.

We will continue to restore some international passenger flights under the condition of ensuring virus control, in a bid to meet the demand of overseas students and Chinese nationals. We will also make efforts to protect industry chains," he added. 

Reading between the lines, it is clear that flights between China and the US will be increased, Zheng Hongfeng, CEO of information provider VariFlight, told the Global Times on Wednesday.  

CAAC declined to comment or release further details.

Countries that have already established "green channels" for business travel with China such as South Korea and Singapore could see more flights in and out of China, analysts said. 

In interviews with the Global Times, many foreign businesses said they are seeking all kinds of ways to bring their employees back to China, including appealing to officials back home and in China. Some business groups are also pushing for more "green channels" with China.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China) is said to help arrange chartered flights for US businessmen to return to China, according to a source at a US company. "The chamber probably won't directly charter flights but is coordinating between businesses that are applying with the government," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Asked about plans for chartered flights of US business executives, a public relations representative for AmCham China told the Global Times that it has no such plans for now but will arrange activities for information exchange. 

The group has scheduled a seminar for Thursday to provide companies with the latest information about how to return to China. Among the guests are executives from the German Chamber of Commerce in China, which has helped German nationals return to work in China. 

The scene of foreign businesses rushing to bring their employees back to China with such extensive efforts captured the reality that some US officials have spared no efforts to return, as China remains one of the most important markets for many foreign companies and China is taking the lead in recovery from the pandemic, Chinese analysts pointed out. 

The flight tension between China and the US has lasted for a while. In the latest development on Friday, the US Department of Transportation said it will only permit Chinese carriers to operate, in the aggregate, a total of two weekly round-trip scheduled passenger flights, to and from the US. 

The CAAC said on June 4 that China could increase flights to and from "qualified" countries that meet certain criteria, such as that the country in question has "exported" relatively fewer COVID-19 cases and has close economic ties with China; there is real demand for Chinese nationals in that country to return home; the country has "far-reaching" viral prevention capabilities that can reduce risks, and the country has established "green channels" with China.

The CAAC also said that airlines will have to meet specific, strict viral prevention procedures and requirements under a circuit-breaker and reward mechanism. For example, if all passengers on one airline test negative for three weeks straight, the airline will be permitted to add one weekly flight.

Under the policy, 44 airlines from 23 countries currently in service will have a maximum of 44 flights per week, and newly added 20 airlines in 16 countries will have up to 20 flights per week.

"We look forward to resuming passenger services between the US and China when the regulatory environment allows us to do so. As to the recent CAAC announcement, we are still reviewing the revised regulations," United Airlines said in response to the Global Times on Sunday.

Qin Ling, a market observer, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the change may also affect other countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey and Ireland, which are busy discussing more flights with different departments in China.

Currently, the UAE is recognized globally as a transfer hub of choice. Etihad Airways said earlier this week that it will resume some regularly scheduled flights from Wednesday with the airline initially serving just 20 destinations in Europe, Asia and Australia. From Monday, Emirates said it will have 16 newly added destinations added, including Hong Kong.