United Airlines on Tuesday won U.S. government approval to begin service between Washington Dulles airport and Beijing, opening the door to the first non-stop air link between the U.S. and Chinese capitals.
The decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation caps an intense bidding process among U.S. airlines for the potentially lucrative rights to fly to China, where commerce is growing and access by foreign carriers is greatly restricted. A recent agreement between the U.S. and China calls for a gradual increase in air links between the countries.
United won the rights to daily flights on a single route. Washington, D.C., had been the largest U.S. market without non-stop service to China. When service begins March 25, United will fly Boeing 747s configured in three classes of service.
"United Airlines is honored to be selected as the first carrier to connect the governments, commerce and cultures of these two important capital cities," said United CEO Glenn Tilton.
American, Continental and Northwest had also applied for the newest China rights. In separate statements, each airline expressed disappointment with the decision. None committed to appealing the DOT decision.
"We are disappointed that the DOT didn't award the route to Continental, as we would have provided the greatest benefit to consumers," Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark said. Continental had hoped to add service between Newark and Shanghai. In its bid, it touted the value of connecting the largest cities and top business centers of each nation.
Northwest applied for the right to fly to Shanghai from Detroit. American's bid originally was for non-stop service between Dallas/Fort Worth and Beijing, though the carrier changed that proposal in December after an impasse with pilots regarding work time needed to staff the long flight.
American asked the DOT to resubmit its bid to allow it to fly from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago O'Hare with continuing service to Beijing. The return still would have gone from Beijing to Dallas/Fort Worth non-stop, since prevailing winds in that direction typically make for a shorter flight time.
The latest round of flights were open only to airlines that already offer non-stop service between the USA and China. United operates non-stop flights to Beijing and Shanghai from San Francisco and Chicago O'Hare.
In 2008, U.S. carriers will be able to apply for a new set of flights to China. And, unlike the most recent route authority, this route will be open to all U.S. carriers.
Contributing: Marilyn Adams
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