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United Airlines Awaits Approval for Southern Flights

United Airlines, the world's largest transpacific airline, is applying to run daily nonstop flights between Guangzhou and San Francisco, a move that could make it the first US carrier flying to South China.


"We believe that the new flight will offer more choices to business travelers and bring more business opportunities to the Pearl River Delta," said Sidney Kwok, United's general manager for China.


Kwok revealed the plan recently on the 20th anniversary of United flying to China.


Once it gets approval from Chinese authorities, United will fly Boeing 747, which carries around 400 passengers, on this route, Kwok said.


United is the first airline to offer nonstop flights from the United States to China, and operates more nonstop services to China than any other US carrier.


"We want to maintain our leading position and the first advantage by flying to South China first," Kwok said.


Currently, China Southern Airlines, the nation's largest airline in fleet size, is the only air carrier serving the route between Guangdong Province and the United States.


China Southern operates five weekly flights from Guangzhou to Los Angeles.


Guangdong Province contributes about one-tenth of China's gross domestic product and generates one-third of the nation's total exports.


The United States is the southern province's second largest trading partner after Hong Kong.


United's ambitious plan came at a time when major US airlines are busy expanding in China, one of the world's fastest growing aviation markets.


Continental Airlines last June launched daily nonstop services between Beijing and New York, breaking the market duopoly of United and Northwest Airlines, which had served the China market for the past two decades.


American Airlines (AA) will launch daily nonstop service between Shanghai and Chicago from April 2, a route monopolized by United for more than one year. AA will use Boeing 777 for the new service.


"We have been anticipating the opportunity to participate in the growing China market for five years," Athar Khan, AA's managing director for Asia-Pacific region, told reporters last week in Shanghai.


To celebrate the start of the new flight, AA offers a special fare, as low as 2,999 yuan (US$373), for its economy-class roundtrip Shanghai-Chicago tickets, which is only about one-third of the ordinary price.


The promotion has triggered similar price cuts among its rivals. United offers discount tickets at 3,000 yuan (US$373) for its economy-class round-trip tickets on the same route.


Northwest also started to promote roundtrip economy-class tickets at 3,220 yuan (US$400) between Shanghai and Chicago via Tokyo.


The special fares are valid for travel made in April.


China and the United States signed a landmark air transport liberalization pact in 2004.


The agreement allows the number of weekly flights between the two countries to increase nearly five fold, from the limit of 54 weekly roundtrip flights to 249 at the end of a six-year phase-in period.


(China Daily March 3, 2006)


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