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The U.S. airline industry is worried that Chinese carriers enjoy an unfair advantage with access to Russian airspace and China’s government.

The U.S. airline industry is asking the federal government to pause the expansion of passenger flights to China, citing “anti-competitive policies of the Chinese government.”

The letter, addressed to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, said that the Chinese government has implemented strict limits on access to its market since the pandemic. 

“On behalf of the U.S. aviation industry, we are writing to urge you 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,” the letter read. 

The letter was signed by Airlines for America, the trade group that represents major U.S. airlines like Delta and United, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Allied Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants. 

The DOT declined to comment on the matter. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Stunted Post-Pandemic Growth as U.S.-China Tensions Simmer

Before the pandemic, airlines were able to operate around 150 weekly flights between the U.S. and China. But both countries imposed restrictions on the number of flights at the start of the pandemic as geopolitical tensions between them grew. 

And while China has resumed pre-pandemic levels of flying to places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it’s taken a lot longer with the U.S. 

Until August 2023, U.S. and Chinese carriers could only operate 12 flights a week between the two countries. The DOT said in February that U.S. and Chinese carriers could boost weekly flights to 50, starting March 31. 

“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 U.S. workers and businesses,” the letter read. 

Lack of Access to Russian Airspace

Another issue for U.S. airlines is that they can not fly over Russian airspace, while Chinese competitors can. That enables Chinese carriers to charge less for certain flights. A4A previously said the lack of access to Russian airspace has cost the U.S. airline industry $2 billion in annual market share. 

U.S. carriers have not only had to charge more for flights that would have gone through Russian airspace, but they have also needed to change course, which has resulted in more layovers and delays in launching new routes in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Shortly after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in 2022, governments in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Europe banned their airlines from flying over Russia. Previously, U.S. airlines had access to Russian airspace through paying the Russian government fees for air traffic control support, according to The New York Times.  

The U.S. airline industry has been lobbying the government to place more restrictions on foreign carriers’ ability to fly from the U.S. to such routes. The DOT has also considered banning Chinese airlines from flying over Russian airspace if they are operating from the U.S. 

Regardless of the issues with Russian airspace, the letter said U.S. airlines are at a competitive disadvantage in China due to the relationships Chinese airlines have with the country’s government. 

“We ask the government to take the time to address these significant competitive issues and protect U.S. aviation workers, travelers and airlines,” the letter read. 

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Tags: airlines for america, Allied Pilots Association, ALPA, association of flight attendants, china, Department of Transportation, state department, united states

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