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A China Eastern A330. China’s government is easing restrictions on foreign carriers flying into the country. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

As Chinese Government Plans to Allow International Carriers, U.S. Eases Restrictions

The Chinese government will allow international airlines to operate into China at limited capacity. The announcement followed the United States’ decision to ban Chinese carriers from entering the U.S. starting June 16, a move made in retribution to a similar move made by China.

Foreign airlines originally banned from operating in China amid the coronavirus pandemic will be able to choose one Chinese city from an approved list to which they will be able to operate one flight per week.

A Unique Incentive Program

China’s regulatory body has also implemented an incentive system to encourage foreign airlines to enforce enhanced safety standards. If no incoming passengers related to a certain airline’s operations test positive for the novel coronavirus for three consecutive weeks, that airline will be able to increase their weekly flights to two. If up to five coronavirus cases are linked to a certain airline, that airline will be forced to suspend operations for a week; if ten coronavirus cases are linked to an airline, they will have to suspend Chinese operations for a month.

Airlines around the world, including those in the United States, are taking steps to address passenger health concerns. Many airlines are requiring or recommending passengers and crew wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) onboard. They are also ramping up sanitation efforts, including handing out passing wipes to passengers to clean seats and using vaporization systems to clean planes between flights or overnight. Carriers have also added new ventilation systems that can completely replace cabin air every two to five minutes, limiting the amount of time that any viral particles will spend in the air or moving between passengers.

China’s aviation regulation agency announced on March 26 that it would limit foreign airlines to one flight per week based on schedules in place earlier that month in an effort to limit new coronavirus cases entering the country. United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines had already stopped flights to China by that point, but Chinese carriers continued flying to the U.S.

United and Delta both applied to resume flights to China in June, but neither received a response from the Civil Aviation Authority of China. When the U.S. Department of Transportation voiced its support for the two airlines, Chinese officials said it was considering amending its restrictions but did not know when that would happen.

Delta has said that it hopes to resume Chinese services as soon as next week, and it said that it appreciates the U.S. government’s intervention. United says it will return to China “when the regulatory environment allows us to do so.”

In response to China’s move, the Department of Transportation has scrapped its plan to bar Chinese airlines from entering the U.S. But the airlines will be limited to two weekly flights, half the number that Chinese officials allow their airlines to fly to America, CNBC says.

The U.S. says that its own move is necessary “to restore a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among U.S. and Chinese air carriers in the scheduled passenger service marketplace.”

“We support and appreciate continued U.S. government efforts to ensure fairness and access to China,” a Delta spokesperson said in a statement. A United spokeswoman said the company is reviewing the Department of Transportation’s order. The Department of Transportation has not commented at the time of writing.

Despite efforts by airlines and governments to encourage new health policies to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which was first identified in China in late 2019, it is yet unclear how an increase in international travel around the world, not just between the U.S. and China, will impact the number of cases around the world. A number of vaccines are currently in development or moving toward testing, but none have been fully approved, and it is unclear when one will be fully available.

In January, American and Chinese airlines flew roughly 325 weekly flights between the two countries combined. By the end of February, only 20 remained, all operated by Chinese carriers.

Over 8.5 million passengers flew on direct flights between the United States and China in 2018, the last year for which the Department of Transportation has complete data, per the New York Times. Air China flew about 19% of those passengers, while United flew around 17% of them. China Eastern and China Southern Airlines both flew just over 10% of that total, and Delta ranked in fifth.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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