Growing tensions between the U.S. and China have extended to the airline industry as the Transportation Department accused its counterpart in Beijing of blocking American carriers’ attempts to resume service there.
The DOT late on Friday announced that China had violated a bilateral agreement allowing airline service between the two countries by failing to respond to requests by Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc.
China “impaired the operating rights of U.S. carriers and denied them the fair and equal opportunity to exercise their operating rights,” the department said in a notice posted to a government website.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increasing rift between the U.S. and China. President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the virus’ spread and both nations have taken actions aimed at the other, such as expelling journalists.
Starting in February, the U.S. began restricting arrivals of people from China to prevent the spread of the virus. Flights between the two countries fell from about 325 per week in January to only a few dozen.
Earlier this year, China set March 12 as a baseline for resumption of service between the two countries. Because Delta, United and American Airlines Group Inc. had already halted service to the Asian nation by then, it put them at an unfair disadvantage, the DOT said.
“The department is taking this step because Chinese aviation authorities have imposed restrictions on U.S. carriers that are making it impossible for them to resume passenger services between the US and China and operate those services at levels that they have a right to operate under the U.S.-China air transport agreement,” the department said in a statement on Saturday.