The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently announced that it will increase the number of passenger flights permitted from China to the United States from 12 to 18 round-trip flights per week, effective September 1. Beginning October 29, the number of flights will increase to 24 per week, doubling today’s frequency.
The round-trip flights will be operated by three U.S. airlines and six Chinese airlines: Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.
This latest advance in bilateral aviation cooperation comes amid a period of great geopolitical tension between the two countries. Experts have stated that this measure, in response to strong demand, will help the market for direct passenger flights recover to pre-COVID-19 levels.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington referred questions about specific details to the authorities in China, but said that "direct flights are essential for increasing mutual visits between the Chinese and American people. We hope that the restoration of more flights will be beneficial for the flow of people and trade between the two countries."
"Our main goal,” added the USDOT, “is to create a better environment in which airlines from both sides can fully exercise their bilateral rights to maintain a competitive balance and a fair and equitable opportunity for U.S. and Chinese airlines.”
U.S. airlines are noting that they cannot fly over Russian airspace in their routings to China, making travel times significantly longer. In June, Reuters reported that Chinese airlines were also avoiding flying over Russian airspace on newly approved flights to and from the United States, though they still use Russian airspace for other flights. Industry observers consider this measure to be political and lacking a rational basis, as it was caused by unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia, which have nothing to do with China.
The recovery of international flights in China is of great importance for the restoration of regional and global passenger traffic, as international flights accounted for 15% of China's total air passenger market before the pandemic. Although a strong recovery trend has been observed between January and April 2023 after China's reopening, the uncertainties surrounding air travel policies could significantly affect the trajectory of traffic recovery.
This increase in flights between China and the United States is an encouraging sign of the recovery of international aviation after the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a positive step in the relations between the two countries, including a renewed focus on mutual investment and more frequent travel/interaction between their citizens.