Airlines dispute adds headwinds to US-China relationship

After Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed in November that ties needed to be stabilized, the dispute over air routes between the US and China is a further impasse in efforts to improve relations between the two countries. floating.

The U.S. has offered to allow Chinese airlines to fly between the two countries for the same number of weeks as U.S. airlines, but has agreed not to fly over Russia, according to six people familiar with the negotiations. Only if you

Moscow banned U.S. airlines from flying the country after Washington banned Russian airlines from flying to the U.S. following Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. is not prohibited from entering Russian airspace.

US airlines operate 12 weekly flights to China and Chinese carriers operate 8 flights to the US. U.S. airlines face higher fuel costs than their Chinese rivals, who have a much shorter route to the U.S. via Russia.

U.S. airlines have lobbied the Biden administration not to allow more flights to China, citing the cost gap. A shorter route via Russia would also give Chinese airlines the advantage of direct flights to the US East Coast.

A Chinese embassy official said the Chinese government’s proposal to level the number of weekly flights, giving both countries 12 flights, was “very reasonable”. Blaming Washington for the situation, he said China had not accepted that aircraft carriers had to avoid flying over Russia.

“Slow progress at this point is not what we want to see. Frankly, the blame lies with the United States,” he said. “The issue between the United States and Russia should not be used as a basis for demanding so-called ‘reciprocity’ rather than between the United States and China.”

The Chinese diplomat added that Xi and Biden agreed when they met at the G20 summit in Bali in November that they needed to increase people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, adding that they will achieve that goal. He stressed that more flights are needed for

But U.S. airlines, with the support of some members of Congress, hope the Biden administration will resist allowing Chinese airlines to fly more flights.

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom told CNBC this week that there can be no “unlevel playing field.”

“We fly the same length and don’t need to burn more fuel and add time,” he said. But he added that he hopes Beijing and Washington will find a solution, given the “massive demand”.

The National Security Council and the State Department declined to comment on the status of U.S.-China talks. But an NSC spokeswoman said it was “aware” of the concerns from U.S. airlines.

An NSC spokesperson said, “In the face of Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine, normal business with Russia is impossible.

The dispute is the latest in US-China relations at their worst since the normalization of ties in 1979. After Bali, Secretary of State Anthony Brinken was due to fly to Beijing, but he canceled his trip. After a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over the United States.

Chinese officials said another reason for not accepting the US terms to bypass Russia was that airlines from other countries, including India and the UAE, flew over Russia without being affected in the US. rice field.

“I hope the US side can refrain from politicizing this issue and consult with us on an appropriate solution,” he said.

A US airline executive said US airlines are also resisting because they care more about the prestige of multiple flights than having a full plane. He said it put U.S. airlines at a disadvantage because they wanted to operate fewer but more full flights in order to secure

China wants to boost the number of business visitors as it seeks to attract investment from foreign companies after the end of its zero-coronavirus policy. Beijing eventually hopes to see a significant increase in the number of flights between the two countries, but for now he has proposed four increases.

Steve Saxon, head of McKinsey’s Asia travel division, said one of the reasons US airlines resisted an overall increase in their flights to China was that they weren’t plagued by the relatively low number of flights. suggesting that it is the body.

“US carriers… South Korean and Japanese airlines are winning out of the US-China deadlock,” Saxon added.

According to aviation data and advisory provider Ishka Global, the number of scheduled flights from China to the United States in March was only 6% of March 2019 levels before the Covid-19 pandemic. In contrast, flights from China to Europe have recovered to 23% of his March 2019 level.

Additional reporting by Chan Ho-Him from Hong Kong

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