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U.S. Airlines Push Back on China Flight Increases

U.S.-based carriers unite against Chinese airlines.

An Air China Boeing 787-9 in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Major U.S. airlines and various union groups are uniting together and asking authorities to stop approving any more flights between the United States and China because of “anti-competitive” policies imposed on U.S. carriers, according to the Associated Press. The group expressed its grievances in a letter sent to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Transportation Peter Buttigieg.

CEO of Airlines for America (A4A) and the presidents of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Allied Pilots Association (APA), and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) signed the letter.

Current Condition

The number of flights between China and the U.S. has significantly increased in the past year since China removed its COVID Zero policy. On March 31, Chinese airlines have started operating the new 50 flights weekly schedule that was approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) earlier in the month.

The new count is up more than 50% from the previous level of 31 flights per week. The bilateral increase means U.S. airlines can also fly 50 flights per week to China. According to Aeroroutes, U.S. and China carriers offered 357 one-way flights in week 32 of 2019, more than three times the latest approved level.

Reuters reported at the time that, A4A in a statement, said it “supports the U.S. government’s approach to slowly, gradually and reciprocally reopen the market with China,” adding, “it’s imperative the U.S. government maintains this approach.”

Flip-Flopping Stance

The airlines and unions said in their Thursday letter that COVID-era rules imposed by China are still affecting U.S. airlines’ ability to operate in the country. However, the letter did not elaborate on which rules still affect American operations.

The U.S. airlines also said that Chinese airlines get an advantage by flying shorter routes through Russian airspace, which none of the U.S. airlines have done since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out two years ago. However, only a handful of Chinese flights overfly Russian airspace.

Newly added flights have all avoided Russian airspace, which also caused certain westbound flights to add technical stops. The letter could force Chinese carriers to pull out from Russian airspace entirely should they plan to increase U.S. flights further.

The letter also said that Chinese airlines get “certain protections” from the government, allowing them to operate their routes irrespective of market conditions. However, it did not elaborate on the specifics of these protections either. 

In addition to the letter from trade groups and airline unions, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., also chimed in. Chairman Mike Gallagher and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, sent a letter to Secretary Blinken and Secretary Buttigieg urging the officials to be cautious when approving new flights between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, citing unfair market practices and security concerns.

The letter also cited an article from NASDAQ about the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s plan to restore international service as part of its claim for China’s unfair competition claims, even though the article only reported goals of the Chinese authority and no specifics on its approach.

Fangzhong Guo


  • Fangzhong Guo

    Fangzhong grew up near an OEM airport in northeastern China, where he developed his enthusiasm for aviation. Taking upon his passion, he's now working as an aircraft interior design engineer. Besides working in the aerospace industry, Fangzhong enjoys trying out different types of airplanes and seeing how airplane interiors have evolved. So far, he's flown on over 80 types of aircraft. He also planespots in his spare time. His rarest catches included the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and AN-225.

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