U.S. regulators Tuesday granted Delta Air Lines and UAL's United Airlines approval to start flying new sought-after routes to China next year.
The Department of Transportation also proposed four new daily flights to China to begin in 2009. These flights would be operated by AMR's American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and US Airways.
Final approval of these proposed flights will occur after further public comment, the Transportation Department said in a statement.
Shares of all six airlines rose sharply Tuesday.
Routes to China, which are tightly controlled, have been hotly contested among U.S. airlines because of the growth potential and limited competition.
The new routes are the result of an agreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments signed in July. The agreement aims to increase the number of daily flights between the countries to 23 from 10 within five years.
Delta said it plans to begin daily service between Shanghai and its hub in Atlanta starting March 30, 2008, its first direct service to China.
The No. 3 U.S. carrier plans to use a Boeing 777, which seats 268 passengers, including 50 in business class, on the route.
United Airlines, which already serves China, was approved to fly from San Francisco to Guangzhou.
Under the tentative approvals, American Airlines would fly between Chicago and Beijing, Continental would serve Shanghai from Newark, Northwest would fly from Detroit to Shanghai, while US Airways would serve Beijing from Philadelphia.
US Airways said it planned to serve Beijing with a 269-seat Airbus A340. It said the flights to China will originate at its hub in Charlotte, N.C.