WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Transportation Department said on Friday (Jan 21) it would suspend 44 China-bound flights from the United States by four Chinese carriers in response to the Chinese government's decision to suspend some US carrier flights over Covid-19 concerns.
The Biden administration action came after Chinese authorities suspended 20 United Airlines, 10 American Airlines and 14 Delta Air Lines flights since Dec 31 after some passengers tested positive for Covid-19.
The Transportation Department said as recently as Tuesday that the Chinese government had cancelled US flights.
The suspensions will begin on Jan 30 with Xiamen Airlines' scheduled Los Angeles-to-Xiamen flight and run through March 29.
The decision will cut some flights by Xiamen, Air China , China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said on Friday the policy for international passenger flights entering China has “been applied equally to Chinese and foreign airlines in a fair, open and transparent way.”
He called the US move “very unreasonable” and added: “We urge the US side to stop disrupting and restricting the normal passenger flights” by Chinese airlines.”
Airlines for America, a trade group representing the three US carriers affected by China’s move along with others, said it supported Washington’s action “to ensure the fair treatment of US airlines in the Chinese market.”
The Transportation Department said France and Germany have taken similar action against China’s Covid-19 actions. It said China’s suspension of the 44 flights “are adverse to the public interest and warrant proportionate remedial action.” It added that China’s “unilateral actions against the named US carriers are inconsistent” with a bilateral agreement.
The department said China's suspension of the 44 flights "are adverse to the public interest and warrant proportionate remedial action."
It added that China's "unilateral actions against the named US carriers are inconsistent" with a China-US bilateral agreement.
China has also suspended US flights by Chinese carriers after passengers later tested positive.
The department said that if China revised its "policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for US carriers, the Department is fully prepared to once again revisit the action."
But it also warned that if China cancels more flights,"we reserve the right to take additional action."
China has all but shut its borders to travellers, cutting total international flights to just 200 a week, or 2 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in September.
The number of US flights being scrapped has surged since December, as infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus soared to record highs in the US.
Beijing and Washington have sparred over air services since the start of the pandemic. In August, the US Transportation Department limited four flights from Chinese carriers to 40 per cent passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four United Airlines flights.
Before the recent cancellations, three US airlines and four Chinese carriers were operating about 20 flights a week between the countries, well below the figure of more than 100 per week before the pandemic.