Panda partners in China route bid: Unbeatable beasts?

They’re off! And the race gets tougher, with Delta already in the post position and heavily favoured by touts for the next US-China route rights award is moving to build up its bid by promising non-stop flights between Atlanta and both Beijing and Shanghai. The Atlanta-based carrier has been pushing for Shanghai rights since last year and was the first to jump in when new route rights were made available under a just-signed US-China treaty. 445649116_89235e117d_m.jpgThe carrier says that the southeastern region of the United States is so underserved that it can offer both routes, to Shanghai by March (if not sooner) and to Beijing in March 2009. Delta has a few paw-erful allies in its bid: the three giant pandas donated by China to its zoo, Lun Lun, Yang Yang, and Mei Lan, put their paw prints on an on-line petition that Delta has set up on a special website.

Northwest Airlines, which is ready to fly as soon as it can, also has set up a nice little website to boost its bid for rights to fly between its Detroit hub and Shanghai. Northwest, which already has a US-China network, seems to acknowledge that Delta is the frontrunner, and says that it knows that the DoT (Docket OST-2007-28567) wants to choose a new entrant this year. The airline adds, “We’re prepared to respect the DoT’s wishes but we think the public and the DoT should have a choice. Northwest would accept China frequencies in either or both years”. But does Northwest have pandas or other Chinese gifts on its side?

Other carriers are interested in routes that will be given out in later years, with American, Continental, and United all making bids for more routes in addition to those each already has. Interestingly, US Airways, which had been humming and hawing about its plans, applied for China rights from Philadelphia, but not before March 2009. By then, it should have its long-range Airbus A340s in service. US Airways’ choice of a later date makes it all the more likely that the powers that be in Washington will pick Delta, the largest US-flag airline without any China routes. But there’s no guarantee Delta will get both city rights it seeks, no matter how hard its panda pals root for the routes.

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