David Knibb SEATTLE

All three US carriers that have been tentatively awarded new rights to China have asked the US Department of Transportation (DoT) for more flights than they have received.

Of the 17 new weekly flights allowed under the China-US bilateral between now and next April, the DoT gave four to Northwest Airlines for immediate use, and two for April. It made an identical award to FedEx. The DoT gave United Airlines no immediate rights, but allowed it five new frequencies starting in April. All three carriers have asked the DoT to reconsider.

Combined with frequencies already held, the new awards would allow FedEx to double its service to China. Northwest would have more flights from Detroit to Beijing and Shanghai and would be able to add flights from Honolulu and Anchorage. United, meanwhile, would be free to launch San Francisco-Shanghai non-stop services.

But no one seems satisfied. Northwest has objected the loudest, saying that "as a new entrant in the all-cargo market in China", it cannot offer a viable cargo service to China with so few frequencies. It had asked for four all-cargo flights but received only one. The airline warns that it will operate passenger flights only unless the DoT gives it more all-cargo rights. That would leave FedEx with no US competition in the all-cargo China market, says Northwest.

FedEx told the DoT that, because China operates a six-day working week, it needs at least six flights a week to Beijing and Shanghai, or two more than it was granted.

United received five of the seven new frequencies it sought, but wants to start them now, not wait until April.

No other US carriers will be allowed to serve China until April 2001. American Airlines has already applied for the route, and the DoT says it will consider other applications after it resolves the current complaints.

Source: Airline Business