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U.S. rolls back China COVID flight curbs again in air travel boost

An Eastern China Boeing 777 sits at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on July 23.  (DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Danny Lee and Luz Ding Bloomberg News

Flights between the U.S. and China will increase to 70 a week starting Nov. 9, American officials said, as the two world’s largest economies gradually lift limits on services imposed during the pandemic.

The number of flights rises from 48 a week, with the equivalent round-trips increasing to 35 from 24, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a filing Friday. The limit of 24 kicks in on Sunday, after an earlier agreed relaxation from 12.

The department said it was seeking an “ongoing and productive dialogue” with its counterparts in China at the Civil Aviation Administration of China “to facilitate a gradual, broader reopening of the U.S.-China air services market.”

“The Department intends to establish a roadmap that will provide for a phased and predictable return to the capacity entitlements,” according to the filing.

The increase in flights comes hours after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluded two days of talks in Washington with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and met with President Joe Biden. The officials agreed in principle on a meeting between Biden and President Xi Jinping.

A United Airlines Holdings Inc. executive told Bloomberg News on Friday the airline was in favor of a gradual increase in the restoration of U.S.-China flights.

Flights between the two countries, which averaged 340 a week before the pandemic, have struggled to recover as the U.S. blocked any increase, with officials arguing that China had violated an existing agreement between the two nations with its strict COVID control measures.

The U.S. Department of Transportation in August agreed to raise the number of round-trips from 12 a week for each nation to 24 from Oct. 29, shared between the three largest U.S. carriers and six Chinese airlines.

United said earlier that it will resume flights between San Francisco and Beijing in November as part of the earlier increase.