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Washington should focus on positive flight move signal, not fly off at tangent: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2020-06-04 21:12
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An airplane carrying medical assistance team supporting virus-hit Hubei Province receives a water cannon salute as it lands at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, capital of China, April 20, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

China's aviation authority announced in a statement on Thursday that foreign airlines whose services to China have been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply to resume flights.

With countries around the world implementing pandemic prevention and control measures, there have been growing calls to get commercial flights operating again — not least from airlines, which have been hemorrhaging money with their planes on the ground — and, in light of the generally improving pandemic situation, foreign carriers currently barred from operating flights to China, will be allowed to apply to operate once-a-week flights into a city of their choosing starting June 8.

The adjustment of the control measures on international flights to and from China is undoubtedly a welcome move by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, not just for the 95 foreign airlines that can now apply to resume flights to the country, but also because it is another positive signal suggesting that the world is starting to emerge from its enforced suspended animation.

Although the US Department of Transportation seems intent on interpreting the move as Beijing bowing under pressure — it issued a notification the day before to seven Chinese airlines stating it was suspending their flights to and from the US from June 16 because China did not permit US carriers to exercise "the full extent of their bilateral right" to conduct passenger air services to and from the country — this misreads the timing of the announcement, as the adjustment has obviously been made after careful consideration of the pandemic situation worldwide and mindful of the risks; which is why there are rewards and suspensions for the airlines depending on whether any infections are detected among their passengers.

Not even Washington, which is engaged in a full-on jag against Beijing, can argue that reviving air travel will not be good for both countries — people from the two countries make 9 million trips both ways every year — and for the global economy. The curtailing of flights worldwide has highlighted just how important air travel is to the global economy, not only directly but also as an essential part of the broader travel and tourism sector, the world's largest industry.

Also, it should be borne in mind that it was the US administration, not the Chinese authorities, that ordered the three US carriers operating passenger flights between the countries to suspend their China operations in early February, when China was battling the virus in Hubei province.

True, the US airlines applied to resume their operations in May, when it was clear that China had largely controlled the spread of the virus in the country. But the situation in the US at that time made it impossible for the CAAC to approve the US carriers' applications.

It is to be hoped that the US airlines take prevention and control measures seriously — such as making it compulsory for all onboard a plane to wear face masks — because if the increased number of flights do not lead to a spike in infections, it will instill confidence that air travel can get back to normal sooner rather than later.

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