Eastern Airlines wants to fly to China before the end of the year. The carrier applied to the US Department of Transportation for allocation route frequencies connecting New York’s JFK Airport with Shanghai, with plans to launch service twice weekly immediately upon approval. It aims to expand to four weekly trips by April 2023.
The route would pass through Anchorage, as well as Seoul. Should China’s COVID-19-related rules relax the carrier would drop the Seoul stop. For now it allows operations without a crew staying overnight in China. That’s just one of several challenges Eastern must navigate to bring this service to life.
The company indicates that it would eventually fly the trip with its not-yet-active 777 fleet. Initial operations would occur on a leased 436-seat A330-300. With Russian airspace still closed to US airlines, the trip would require ETOPS certification for operations. Eastern does not currently hold that authorization. That explains the leased aircraft plan. It seems that the company has some confidence in securing the ETOPS certification by April 2023, or an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One of those would be useful to increase the frequencies and transition to using in-house aircraft rather than leased planes.
Or Eastern expects Russian airspace to reopen to US airlines by then. With the airspace reopened non-ETOPS operations would be viable for the trip. This is how Northern Pacific planned to fly from Anchorage to Japan and Korea. It is also navigating those challenges, but looking for different markets with its leased planes.
The carrier must also navigate the restrictions on arriving passengers into various Chinese airports. Some Chinese airlines are operating to alternate airports rather than Shanghai or Beijing, for example, to keep planes full and travelers moving. Whether Eastern could secure access to Shanghai from Chinese authorities remains to be seen.
This is not the first time Eastern has requested access to the Chinese market. The company sought rights to fly from JFK to Jinan Yaoqiang International Airport (TNA) via Anchorage in February 2019. That application was withdrawn in May 2020, without the US DOT acting upon it.
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