The Trump administration is banning Chinese passenger airlines from flying scheduled service to the U.S. starting later this month, a move aimed at ramping up pressure on China, which hasn't allowed U.S. carriers to resume flights there, and threatens to further isolate the world's two largest aviation markets from one another.
The order, published Wednesday, takes effect June 16, but it could be moved up.
The issue comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The dispute is also a departure from the type of bilateral agreements that the U.S. government has pursued for decades that aim to make it easier for airlines to expand to international airports without onerous government approvals. The U.S. does not have a so-called Open Skies agreement with China.
The U.S. order affects Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Xiamen. The airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The measure does not affect flights from Hong Kong, a Department of Transportation spokesman said.
The current dispute "goes back to the era of limited entry markets which we have been trying to get away from for the past 30 years," said Bob Mann, an aviation analyst and a former executive at TWA and other airlines.
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have been pushing to return to China after pausing service because of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, but they haven't yet received the approvals from Chinese aviation authorities to do so.
"We support and appreciate the U.S. government's actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness," Delta said in a statement.
United, for its part, said, "We look forward to resuming passenger service between the United States and China when the regulatory environment allows us to do so."
"Our overriding goal is not the perpetuation of this situation, but rather an improved environment wherein the carriers of both parties will be able to exercise fully their bilateral rights," said the U.S. Department of Transportation's order Wednesday. "Should the [Chinese aviation authority] adjust its policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers, the Department is fully prepared to revisit the action it has announced in this order."
In March, Chinese aviation officials said airlines from that country could keep flying one scheduled passenger flight a week, on one route to any country, a measure aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
In January, U.S. and Chinese airlines operated 325 flights a week between the two countries, the DOT said.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China could not immediately be reached for comment. Chinese Embassy officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.