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Senators urge halt to Chinese carriers overflying Russia on U.S. flights

Published 02/23/2023, 05:45 PM
Updated 02/23/2023, 11:51 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks during a hearing in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2022. Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the committee's top Republican urged the Biden administration to halt Chinese airlines and other non-American carriers from flying over Russia on U.S. routes.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, and James Risch, the committee's top Republican, in a letter seen by Reuters urged the Biden administration to ensure no commercial airline overflying Russian territory arrives or departs from a U.S. airport.

It also encouraged the administration to "strongly and publicly discourage U.S. persons, citizens, and permanent residents from traveling on flights over Russian territory."

U.S. airlines and other foreign carriers are barred from flying over Russia. Russia banned airlines from the United States from overflights after the U.S. barred Russia flights in March 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine.

"An additional byproduct of the current situation is that it puts U.S. airlines at a competitive disadvantage relative to airlines from other countries willing to do business with Russia," the senators wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that was copied to White House's national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The State Department declined to comment.

U.S. air carriers currently serve Shanghai from the United States through a stop in Incheon, South Korea, while Chinese carriers serve the United States directly, flying through Russian airspace.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment.

Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), United Airlines, Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and other carriers, praised the letter that "underscores our industry’s long-standing concerns regarding Russian overflights, which have put U.S. airlines – passenger and cargo – at a direct competitive disadvantage."

The group echoed the senators "call for the administration to take urgent action to ensure that foreign carriers who are overflying Russia do not depart, land or transit through U.S. airports."

The senators want the Biden administration to prohibit U.S. government personnel on official travel from taking flights known to use Russian airspace.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks during a hearing in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2022. Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

"The risk to Americans flying over Russian airspace is real, as demonstrated by Russian-backed separatists that shot down a Malaysian Airlines flight, killing all 298 passengers on board, or the government of Belarus, using as a pretense a false-bomb alert, ordered a Ryanair flight over its territory to land so that it could seize and detain a particular passenger," the senators wrote.

"Proactive action taken by the Administration now would protect Americans from these significant risks, as well as closing off a funding source to the Russian government and addressing an inequity that puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage to foreign competition."

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