- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The U.S. Department of Transportation yesterday awarded Washington Dulles International Airport and United Airlines a coveted nonstop route to Beijing.

Three other airlines — American, Continental and Northwest — also were competing to win the only new U.S.-to-China route, with each proposing service from a different U.S. city.

“That’s a very big deal for United,” said Darryl Jenkins, a Marshall, Va., airline industry analyst who worked on American’s proposal. “The demand for the travel is growing faster than supply by a long shot so you’re charging quite a bit for first-class and business-class fares, and all those seats are always full.”

Several U.S. cities already have nonstop service to China: American flies nonstop to Shanghai from Chicago; Continental has service between Newark, N.J., and Beijing; and United already operates 28 weekly nonstop flights to China from Chicago and San Francisco. Washington is the largest U.S. metropolitan area without nonstop service to China.

The new daily service will begin March 25 and will take about 14 hours.

The Transportation Department said it chose United because its proposed Washington-Beijing route would benefit the greatest number of passengers. More people travel to China from the Washington metro area than from any other U.S. city that currently does not have nonstop U.S.-China service, the department said.

The Dulles-Beijing route is expected to provide a tangible as well as symbolic boost to Dulles, which served 27 million passengers in 2005 — almost 5 million of whom flew on international routes.

Gerald L. Gordon, president and chief executive officer of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said new air service to China will create more jobs, business opportunities and tax revenue for all of Northern Virginia.

“Whenever air service to new markets opens up, there is a significant increase in activity between the local businesses and those markets,” Mr. Gordon said.

Washington-to-Beijing service will generate $275 million to $333 million annually for the Washington region’s economy and create 3,400 to 4,100 jobs, according to the Capital-to-Capital Coalition, a joint endeavor among United, several Washington-area trade and business organizations and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

United bested American, which sought to fly between Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Beijing; Continental, which applied for service between Newark, N.J., and Shanghai; and Northwest, which applied for Detroit-Shanghai service.

Because the Washington region is among the country’s largest job growth areas the past five years, particularly for high-tech jobs, the Dulles-Beijing route was the most sensible of the four choices, said the Washington Airports Task Force, a nonprofit group that promotes the expansion and enhancement of Dulles and Reagan airports.

“Nonstop air service between Washington and Beijing will fulfill an extremely vital need for our region’s high-tech industry, opening the opportunity for the creation of numerous new, high-paying jobs,” said Carol Welti, vice president of marketing and development for the task force.

With the Transportation Department awarding only one winner, competition was fierce, with each airline seeking testimonials and endorsements from researchers, academics and politicians.

Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, last month endorsed United’s proposal over the Detroit-Shanghai route proposed by Northwest Airlines, headquartered in his home state.

Mr. Oberstar said United’s daily service between the U.S. and Chinese capitals will strengthen ties between the two nations.

United has been expanding its international service at Dulles. The airline added flights to Kuwait and Narita, Japan, from the Northern Virginia airport in October.

The losing airlines will get another shot at a China route. Through an agreement between the U.S. and China governments, one new nonstop route will be added annually through 2010.

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