US airlines decry ‘unfair’ competition by China

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American air carriers have argued that the use of Russian airspace gives their rivals an “artificial” cost advantage

US airlines have tried to fend off increased competition from Chinese rivals by appealing to the administration of President Joe Biden for help, arguing that Beijing has given its carriers unfair advantages through “anti-competitive” policies and by routing flights through Russian airspace.

Trade groups for the airlines and their employee unions urged the Biden administration this week to halt approvals of additional flights to the US from China. Beijing halted inbound flights from overseas during the Covid-19 pandemic and imposed new requirements that continue to affect US carriers.

The Chinese government also provides “certain protections” to the country’s airlines, the US airline groups said on Thursday in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “These actions demonstrated the clear need for the US government to establish a policy that protects US aviation workers, industry and air travelers.” 

Air traffic between the countries remains far below pre-pandemic levels, even after the Biden administration increased the number of round trips that Chinese airlines can fly each week to 50 from 35, effective at the end of March. US carriers were given the same number of flights to and from China, but they are reportedly using only part of that approved capacity.

“If the growth of the Chinese aviation market is allowed to continue unchecked and without concern for equality of access in the market, flights will continue to be relinquished to Chinese carriers at the expense of US workers and businesses,” the airline groups said in their letter.

Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during a summit last November in San Francisco to increase the number of direct flights between the countries, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday. Boosting air traffic “will help the two peoples strengthen exchanges and enhance mutual understanding.”

The US carriers argued that their Chinese rivals have gained an “artificial” competitive advantage by continuing to fly through Russian airspace, which gives them shorter routes. US airlines stopped using Russian airspace after the Ukraine crisis escalated in February 2022.

An anti-China committee formed by the US House of Representatives also has urged Biden to stop giving Chinese airlines more flights. Like US airlines, the lawmakers lamented China’s Russia advantage in a letter to Blinken and Buttigieg this week.

Any approvals of new routes should require Chinese carriers to steer clear of Russia, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said in its letter. “US citizens traveling between the US and China should not unknowingly be subject to the risks associated with traveling through Russian airspace, and this practice should end,” the lawmakers argued.

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