U.S. airlines and unions call for pause in China-U.S. flights, citing anti-competitive policies


12th April 2024 – (Washington) Major U.S. airlines and aviation unions have jointly called on the Biden administration to halt the approval of additional flights between China and the United States, citing concerns over the “anti-competitive policies of the Chinese government.” This appeal comes after the U.S. Transportation Department’s announcement in February that Chinese passenger airlines could increase weekly round-trip flights to 50 from the current 35, a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Although U.S. carriers were also authorised for 50 flights per week, they are not currently utilising all the approved flights.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, along with several unions, penned a letter to the Transportation and State departments, highlighting the advantage Chinese airlines gain by using Russian airspace. In contrast, U.S. carriers ceased flying through Russian airspace in March 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The letter, which was first reported by Reuters, was signed by the Air Line Pilots Association, Allied Pilots Association, and Association of Flight Attendants. It urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to “pause additional passenger flights between the United States and the People’s Republic of China until U.S. workers and businesses are guaranteed equality of access in the marketplace, free from the existing harmful anti-competitive policies of the Chinese government.”

Flights between China and the United States, which were a contentious issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, have emerged as a rare area of cooperation between the two superpowers. However, U.S. airlines have expressed concerns about the rapid increase in the number of flights. There are worries that the Biden administration may further raise the number of weekly flights permitted for Chinese carriers, potentially doubling it to 100.

In a separate letter, U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher, chair of the House select committee on China, and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the panel’s top Democrat, urged the Biden administration not to approve more flights until China adheres to its existing bilateral agreement and passenger demand begins to recover. The lawmakers emphasized that Chinese carriers currently operate air routes at a competitive advantage, which should not be allowed to increase without achieving parity in the number of U.S. carrier-operated routes to China. They also highlighted concerns about American passengers being exposed to unnecessary security risks by traversing Russian airspace.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 150 weekly round-trip passenger flights were allowed between China and the United States, but restrictions were imposed in early 2020. Until August 2023, both Chinese and U.S. carriers were limited to 12 flights per week. The number gradually increased to 24 per week, with the U.S. Department of Transportation approving 35 flights for Chinese carriers in November.