Jun 04, 2020 08:36 PM

Update: China to Allow Banned Foreign Airlines to Resume Some Flights

Two China Eastern flights taxi at Beijing's Daixing Airport
Two China Eastern flights taxi at Beijing's Daixing Airport

China said Thursday it will allow foreign airlines that previously operated flights to the country but are now barred due to virus control measures to resume limited flights, a day after the U.S. said it would launch a reciprocal ban on all Chinese carriers.

The announcement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) could defuse the latest clash between the world’s two largest economies, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s Wednesday announcement that all Chinese airlines would be barred from operating flights to the U.S. effective June 16 or sooner.

Before that, the U.S. had expressed frustration that China was allowing its own airlines to fly between the two countries, but had refused to let foreign carriers operate similar flights due to a restriction imposed at the height of China’s Covid-19 outbreak in March.

That restriction froze the number of flights into China that any foreign airline could operate at no more than the level of service they were offering as of March 12. But since many foreign carriers had canceled all their flights to China at that point, they were barred from resuming such flights — something many protested as they said they wanted to come back.

According to the CAAC’s Thursday announcement posted on its website, foreign airlines that were barred from China due to the earlier restriction will be allowed to resume operating one flight per week into China starting June 8. It said airlines would be limited to flying on routes where they were already licensed to fly, and could choose from a list of Chinese cities provided by the CAAC.

It added that it would provide incentives for airlines to screen out passengers carrying the Covid-19 virus, and punish those that did not.

It said airlines that went for three consecutive weeks without anyone testing positive for Covid-19 on their flights would be allowed to operate a second weekly flight into China. Conversely, any airline that operated a flight with five or more passengers testing positive would be suspended from operating flights for a week. Airlines with 10 or more passengers testing positive on a single flight would be suspended for four weeks.

“When the risks are under control and adequate guarantees are received, the number of flights from eligible countries can be appropriately increased,” the CAAC said.

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines applauded the move. “We welcome initiatives to restart international aviation, restore air links and support the resumption of both business and leisure travel, in line with broader recovery plans,” a group spokeswoman said. “Trade and tourism are key contributors to economic and social development and will be important elements in supporting wider economic recovery.”

In announcing its decision to ban Chinese airlines passenger flights, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had said it was specifically taking the move in response to the ongoing Chinese government ban. As of late Thursday afternoon Beijing time, the department had not posted any new announcements responding to China’s lifting of its ban.

China’s latest move would put U.S. carriers on roughly equal footing with their Chinese counterparts. Three major U.S. carriers, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, previously offered regular flights to China, meaning flights by U.S. carriers to China would total three each week once the ban is lifted.

By comparison, China’s three big state-owned airlines, Air China, China Eastern and China Southern, all were scheduled to offer one flight per week to the U.S. in June, though the smaller Xiamen Airlines was also offering one weekly flight to Los Angeles.

Caixin previously learned that the Delta, United and American airlines all applied as early as April to resume some flights but were never given the green light.

“U.S. carriers have asked to resume passenger service, beginning June 1st,” the DOT had said in a brief statement accompanying the announcement of its reciprocal ban on Wednesday. “The Chinese government’s failure to approve their requests is a violation of our Air Transport Agreement.”

Other foreign carriers that stopped flying to China, such as Lufthansa and Finnair, have also applied to resume some flights in June. But representatives from both previously told Caixin they were still awaiting approval for such resumptions in late May.

Before announcing the reciprocal ban on Chinese flights, the U.S. had said late last month it would require that all Chinese airlines flying between the two countries to submit their plans at least 30 days in advance of actual flights, a move that one observer said could be aimed at pressuring Beijing to allow American carriers to resume flights to China.

At that time, the U.S. said it was “taking steps in response to the failure of the government of the People’s Republic of China (China) to permit U.S. carriers to exercise the full extent of their bilateral right to conduct scheduled passenger air services to China.”

Han Wei contributed to this story

Contact reporter Yang Ge (

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