May 24, 2007

American may get China route

American Airlines may have the opportunity to try again to launch nonstop service from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to China under a new aviation agreement announced Wednesday.

But any new China flights on American are unlikely before 2009, because of the way the new routes will be awarded.

Transportation Department officials said they had reached an agreement with Chinese aviation authorities to establish 13 new daily flights operated by U.S. carriers by 2012, more than doubling the existing number. One of the new flights will be added this year and another next year. Four more flights will be established in 2009, three in 2010 and two each in 2011 and 2012.

"Piece by piece, we are making it easier, cheaper and more convenient to fly people and ship goods between our two countries," Mary Peters, the transportation secretary, said in a statement.

The carriers operating the flights will be chosen by the Transportation Department. In the past, competition for new flights to China has been intense, with airlines lobbying Congress and regulators and even taking out ads in newspapers pushing their bids.

"We at American are looking forward to our turn to participate, whenever that might be," spokesman Tim Smith said.

Several carriers praised the agreement and the opportunity to bid for more service.

The major airlines are desperate to expand service into China, one of the world's fastest-growing economies and a major U.S. trade partner. But until recently, decades-old treaties limited service to just two airlines, United Airlines and Northwest Airlines.

In 2006, American was awarded a nonstop flight under a new aviation treaty and began a route between Chicago and Shanghai.

The 2007 and 2008 flights will be difficult for American to win. This year's flight is open to any airline that wishes to apply, and many observers believe that Delta Air Lines or US Airways is likely to win, because they are the largest carriers that lack China service.

The 2008 flight is also a problem for American, because the new agreement specifies that the route must be to Guangzhou, a Chinese trade and manufacturing center. But it's near Hong Kong and is not a particularly useful destination for American.

By Trebor Banstetter, 817-390-7064


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