United aims to fly nonstop from Dulles to Beijing


United Airlines wants to become the first carrier linking Washington, D.C., with direct service to the capital of China.

United will ask permission to serve Beijing from the airline's hub at Washington Dulles International Airport. The carrier would be the first offering nonstop service between the two capitals.

United said yesterday that details of its plans will be part of an application filed today with the Department of Transportation.

Tomorrow is the deadline for carriers to request additional access to mainland China. U.S. transportation officials are prepared to award an additional daily route to a major Chinese city to one of the four commercial carriers already serving that country.

American Airlines has proposed serving Beijing from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Continental has applied for service to Shanghai from Newark Liberty International Airport.

Northwest Airlines has not revealed what route it will request, but the airline intends to file a request, a spokesman said.

At stake is a route that could produce about $100 million in annual revenue, said Roger King, airline analyst at CreditSights.

"It's a big chunk of money, and it's probably profitable if they can keep the plane full," he said.

Chicago has more direct service to mainland China than any other U.S. city. United Airlines operates four daily flights from Chicago to China - two each to Beijing and Shanghai - in addition to its service from San Francisco to those cities. Fort Worth-based American began service to Shanghai from O'Hare International Airport this year.

United's push for access from Dulles could make it the front-runner to win the new route, said Colorado-based aviation analyst Mike Boyd.

"It's a home run" because political and economic arguments can be made for linking the two capitals, Boyd said.

"And because of United's size at Dulles, it is the only U.S. carrier that could pull that off," he said.

Mark Skertic writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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