Washington is reportedly seeking to protect domestic carriers which are banned from Russian skies Air China and China Eastern passenger planes are seen at Yantai Penglai International Airport, Shandong province, China. © CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images
Chinese airlines are avoiding Russian airspace in newly approved routes to and from the United States, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing flight tracking website FlightAware and industry officials.
The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) approved four new weekly flights between US and China on May 18, by carriers including Air China and China Eastern. This brought the total number of weekly roundtrips to 12 from the previous total of eight.
FlightAware records show that the new Chinese flights are not overflying Russia, while previously approved Chinese flights are still using Russian airspace.
Washington and its European allies closed their airspace to Russian aircraft last year as part of Ukraine-related sanctions against Moscow, and Russia retaliated by barring US and European airlines from flying over its territory. China was not affected by the restrictions and continued to use Russian airspace.
It was reported earlier this year that the Biden administration was urged to ban Chinese airlines from passing over Russia on US routes.
The proposal was the result of lobbying by US air carriers, who are losing up to $2 billion annually in market share to foreign competitors not subject to the ban on crossing Russian airspace, the New York Times wrote in March, citing industry trade group Airlines for America.
Airlines from countries such as China and India have enjoyed a boom in business, as they can fly the shortest route without the need to circumvent Russia’s vast territory, the outlet wrote.
American carriers, on the other hand, have had to fly longer distances with dozens of empty seats, in the hope of making the plane light enough to avoid refueling, the New York Times reported, citing airline sources. More than a dozen planned new routes to Mumbai, Tokyo, Seoul and other cities were reportedly put on hold and are being taken up by competitors.
US Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs Annie Petsonk declined to answer on Thursday whether the Biden administration had required Chinese carriers to avoid Russian airspace as a condition for approving the new routes, Reuters wrote.
According to the agency, the Chinese carriers and the Chinese Embassy in Washington were not immediately available for comment.
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