The US Department of Transportation is suspending 26 flights by Chinese airlines next month in a dispute over Beijing’s strict policies regarding travelers’ positive tests for COVID-19.
The retaliatory move follows the Chinese government’s decision to limit inbound flights by US carriers including United Airlines Holdings Inc and Delta Air Lines Inc.
China’s actions are “adverse to the public interest” and warrant “additional proportionate remedial action by the Department,” the US regulator said in an order on Thursday.
The US government cited China’s practice of suspending flights by airlines if too many passengers test positive for COVID-19 after arriving, even though they must be free of the disease to board a flight.
The dispute is a clash between China’s zero-tolerance policies aimed at limiting the spread of disease and the US government’s insistence that China has contravened international treaties on flight access.
The US has taken similar actions before, such as in January when it suspended 44 flights scheduled by Chinese carriers.
The temporary flight ban targets service in September planned by several Chinese airlines, including Air China Ltd, China Eastern Airlines Corp, China Southern Airlines Co Ltd and Xiamen Airlines Co Ltd.
The US action is in response to China’s suspension of 26 flights by US carriers since February.
Representatives for United and American Airlines Group Inc said their companies would not have a statement on the action.
The Civil Aviation Authority of China on Aug. 7 said if at least 4 percent of passengers on a flight test positive for COVID-19 after arrival, one flight by that airline would be suspended.
If the number reaches 8 percent, two flights would be suspended, it said.
The policy eases previous standards that could suspend an airline’s flights for two weeks or limit passenger loads to 40 percent, according to the US order.
The US transportation authority said it is not seeking to ratchet up tensions, but acted because it believes China’s actions contravene a bilateral agreement governing flights between the two nations.
The Chinese policy places an “undue culpability on carriers” because the Chinese government clears each passenger and requires that they present a negative test for COVID-19, it said.
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