United Airlines gets tentative nod for new China route
The Department of Transportation said if the approval stands, service would begin on March 25 between Washington Dulles International Airport and Beijing’s China Peking Capital Airport, the first nonstop service between the two capitals.
The four US carriers — American, United, Continental and Northwest — had been rallying support in an effort to win the rights for the only flight opening to the fast-growing China market.
The department said it had “assessed the bids from four airlines … based on criteria such as which applicant would serve the most customers and provide the best service to the traveling public.”
“It’s not every day we get the opportunity to make flying more convenient, support airlines and boost the economy by proposing to make it easier to fly between the world’s two most dynamic economies,” said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
“As difficult as the final choice will be, ultimately the goal is to do everything in our power to expand service, destinations and frequencies between the United States and China,” she said.
The agency said the Washington-Beijing proposal had the potential to benefit the greatest number of passengers. In addition, the tentative decision noted that United’s service would provide the greatest capacity, offering over 253,000 seats annually.
The other airlines have 14 days to file objections and the department has seven days to review potential objections before issuing a final decision.
American Airlines proposed to fly between Dallas/Fort Worth in Texas and Beijing. Continental Airlines applied for service between Newark, New Jersey and Shanghai. Northwest Airlines bid for a Detroit-Shanghai service.
The US and Chinese governments each are awarding rights to a local carrier for seven flights a week connecting the two countries, under a 2004 aviation agreement.
United chairman and chief executive Glenn Tilton said the carrier “is honored to be selected as the first carrier to connect the governments, commerce and cultures of these two important capital cities.”
United said it would be flying a three-class, 347-seat Boeing 747-400 for its flights and allow 16 connections in China through codeshare alliances with Air China and Shanghai Airlines. United also has a codeshare agreement that will permit US Airways to link to the flights in the US.
A group backing the United bid called the Capital-to-Capital Coalition, including businesses, unions and civic leaders, also hailed the decision.
“In making its prudent decision, it is clear DOT strongly considered both the national interest and the individual communities served by the route,” said coalition chair Jane Garvey.
“Creating a link between Washington and Beijing is an important step in the effort to connect the United States and China some 30 years after diplomatic relations were normalized.”
American Airlines senior vice president Will Ris said the carrier would apply when new slots open up.
“American Airlines is disappointed … Our application would have brought new service to an underserved area of the country and offered enhanced competition in the ever-growing China marketplace,” he said.
Toward the end of the selection process, American sought to change its proposal to add a stop in Chicago before continuing to Beijing. The Department denied American’s motion, saying this came too late.
The stakes for the route are high with US-China economic ties accelerating.
An American Express business travel survey found corporations in China spent 7.41 billion dollars on air travel in 2005, making China the fourth-biggest business travel market in the world.