The U.S. and Chinese governments have reached an agreement that is expected to more than double the number of passenger flights between the United States and China during the next five years.
Northwest Airlines said in response that it is hoping to secure nonstop routes, including a flight between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Shanghai, as a result of the pact.
"We've achieved a breakthrough agreement that opens the way for more frequent, affordable and convenient air service," Mary Peters, U.S. secretary of transportation, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
The agreement will allow U.S. carriers to fly 13 more daily flights to China.
U.S. officials said one new flight will be added this year and another in 2008. Four more daily flights will be launched in 2009, and a total of seven more flights will complete the expansion between 2010 and 2012.
Currently, U.S. airlines operate 10 daily flights into China. Northwest has three daily flights from Tokyo's Narita Airport, offering service to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Northwest, which first launched service to China in the 1940s, is likely to battle with other major U.S. carriers, including United, Continental, American and Delta, for the new routes.
"The new agreement opens the door for important new routes including Detroit-Shanghai, Detroit-Beijing and Minneapolis-St. Paul-Shanghai, which Northwest urgently wants to offer its customers," the carrier said in a prepared statement.
Northwest spokesman Bill Mellon said the airline wants to serve those routes on a nonstop basis and could do so by using Boeing 747-400s or Boeing 787s.
The first of the new 787 "Dreamliners" will join the Northwest fleet next year.
In recent months, Northwest sought Department of Transportation approval to begin flying between Detroit and Shanghai but lost out in a four-way competition to United Airlines, which proposed a Washington Dulles-Beijing route.
Northwest called on the federal government Wednesday to move quickly to establish its process for selecting carriers for the expanded routes to China.
"Over the next several years, we estimate that this agreement will stimulate some $5 billion of new business for our airlines as they take advantage of growing demand for travel between our countries," Peters said.
Northwest and United already have a major presence in the Pacific, and Northwest's lucrative Asian routes will be important to the airline as it emerges from bankruptcy on May 31.
The China routes are expected to be awarded by the federal government to new carriers as well as U.S. airlines already serving the China market.
Liz Fedor - 612-673-7709
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