US suspends 26 Chinese flights, responding to China flight cancellations

The decision will suspend flights by Air China, as well as Xiamen, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines. PHOTO: ST FILE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US government said on Thursday (Aug 25) it would suspend 26 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 cases.

The decision will suspend 26 flights by Xiamen Airlines, Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines starting Sept 5 and running through Sept 28.

The US Department of Transportation cited the recent cancellation of 26 American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines flights over Covid-19 cases.

The suspensions include 19 flights from Los Angeles and seven China Eastern flights from New York.

The spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Mr Liu Pengyu, said the Department of Transportation's action was “extremely irresponsible” and “groundlessly suspended Chinese airline flights”.

The embassy said China’s Covid-19 “circuit breaker” measures were fair and transparent, applied both to Chinese and foreign airlines and were consistent with bilateral air transportation agreements. 

The US Department of Transportation said that Chinese authorities have revised their policies since Aug 7. The new rules stipulate that if the number of passengers testing positive for Covid-19 reached 4 per cent of the total number of passengers on a flight to China, one flight would be suspended; if the figure was 8 per cent, two flights would be suspended.

The department said the US government has repeatedly raised objections with the Chinese government, saying that the rules place "undue culpability on carriers" when travellers test negative before boarding their flight from the US, only to "test positive for Covid-19 after their arrival in China".

Beijing and Washington have sparred over air services since the start of the pandemic.

In August last year, the US Department of Transportation limited four flights from Chinese carriers to 40 per cent passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four US flights.

Three US airlines and four Chinese carriers typically operate about 20 flights a week between the countries, well below the figure of more than 100 a week before the pandemic.

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