Chinese media have called a rumored plan to stop local airlines from using Russian airspace on flights to and from the United States “aggressive, arbitrary and absurd” in an opinion piece printed by the China Daily – the newspaper is often seen as the English language guide to the opinion of the Chinese Communist Party.
U.S. and European airlines are said to be increasingly concerned that their Chinese rivals have an unfair advantage because they do not face a ban on flying through Russian airspace, which saves a significant amount of fuel burn and could be a deciding factor for consumers looking for a shorter flight time.
Some airlines have even been actively lobbying their respective governments to bar Chinese airlines from flying to certain airports unless they avoid Russian airspace. Airline lobby groups argue this would create a ‘level playing field’.
On the back of these calls, the Financial Times reported last week that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) was considering increasing the number of permitted weekly flights by Chinese airlines on the condition that flights didn’t touch Russian airspace.
“The US doesn’t have the right to force airlines of other countries not to choose a particular route,” the China Daily wrote in an opinion piece which didn’t carry a byline. “Chinese airlines can by no means accept the unreasonable offer,” the article continued.
“An issue between the US and Russia is not one between the US and China, and Chinese airliners can not accept the US condition about circumventing Russia as airlines from other countries flying over Russia do not face any action by the US.”
On Wednesday, the DOT did marginally increase the number of flights allowed by Chinese airlines to the United States – and without any route conditions attached.
The DOT has severely restricted the number of flights permitted by Chinese airlines since early 2020 in retaliation to similar measures enacted by China’s air safety regulator as part of the country’s failed ‘Zero Covid’ policy.
In late 2022, however, the Civil Aviation Authority of China lifted pandemic-era flight restrictions, and shortly afterwards, American Airlines started to operate a twice-weekly service between Dallas Fort Worth and Shanghai.
Those additional flights brought the combined number of weekly flights by U.S. airlines to China to just 12 per week. The DOT has decided to reciprocate by allowing Chinese airlines to operate just 12 flights per week to the U.S., up from the current eight permitted flights per week.
“We believe that the public interest is best served by a balanced and incremental reopening to ensure an orderly normalization of the U.S.-China air transport market,” the DOT said on Wednesday.
The DOT noted that further changes would be made “in a manner that offers an equitable and competitive operating environment for our air carriers” – raising the possibility that further increases could come with Russian airspace restrictions.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.