Chinese carriers match flight numbers with US, 'good start but not a concession'
Published: May 04, 2023 10:10 PM
File photo: China US

File photo: China US

The US has decided to allow Chinese carriers to increase flights to the US, making the number of flights between the two largest economies in the world the same. 

Although there is still a big gap compared with flights before the epidemic, industry watchers regard the move as a good start. However, they said this can't be seen as a concession, but a reasonable move based on the principle of reciprocity.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an order, allowing Chinese airlines to operate 12 round-trip flights between China and the US every week, up from the current eight, for a total of 24 flights between China and the US every week.

"We hope to maintain an ongoing and productive dialogue with the Civil Administration of China with the goal of a gradual, broader reopening of the US-China air services market," said the DOT. 

According to an order that the DOT released in August 2020, Chinese airlines could operate a total of eight direct flights between China and the US per week. Since then, direct flights between China and the US operated by US-based airlines had increased to 12 per week, but flights operated by Chinese airlines had not been approved to increase. 

The Chinese airlines serving these routes are Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that such a move is "a small concession" as the two countries struggle to stabilize their turbulent relationship.

However, Qi Qi, an independent market watcher, told the Global Times on Thursday that such a new order was an adjustment that the American civil aviation industry had persuaded the government to make, because the demand for direct flights between China and the US is very strong. 

It is a good start, and it shows that the US government takes a rational attitude toward flight operations. But it should not be considered a "concession", but an act based on the principle of reciprocity between the two sides, said Qi.
The Financial Times reported on April 30 that the US offered to grant Chinese airlines the same number of weekly flights between both countries as American carriers - but only if they agreed not to fly over Russia. 

However, the order released by the DOT on Wednesday did not mention any such content.

Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Thursday that requiring Chinese airlines not to pass through Russian airspace when operating routes between China and the US is "a kind of political behavior without any rational basis."

It was caused by unilateral sanctions imposed by the US on Russia, and so it had nothing to do with China, Wang said. 

Demand for flights between China and the US is huge. A US citizen surnamed Shen took her child and her husband to Shanghai from Los Angeles in April, but since there was no direct flight, she made a transfer in Taipei. In addition, she found that the plane was full in all classes.

Regarding the current load factor of China-US routes, the Global Times learned from various sources that "the current occupancy rate is quite high" and "the demand is real," but "it is not convenient to disclose the specific data."