Airlines Fight For Lucrative Flights To China

American carriers covet the restricted supply into China's soaring aviation market.

The Transportation Department said it'll largely award the flights based on its main objective -- "to maximize the public benefits."

American and Continental say their proposed routes would benefit more of the public than United's because they would serve larger markets than Washington.

United doesn't see it that way. "I never saw anybody with a straight face suggest that Dallas is larger than Washington," said Michael Whitaker, United's VP of international and regulatory affairs.

Continental CEO Lawrence Kellner testified that United already has authority to fly to China from Washington. It need only change one of its existing routes, he said.

United's Whitaker said it would be absurd to switch out of a "high demand" market -- Chicago or San Francisco -- "to fund a new one."

The squabbling isn't likely to end yet. The Transportation Department first plans to make a "tentative decision," said spokesman Bill Mosley, which will give time for the parties "to show cause why the award shouldn't be final."

Will all opposed to the choice raise their hand?

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