(Bloomberg) -- The US will allow further direct flights with China, though they still remain well below pre-Covid levels. 

Starting March 31, Chinese airlines will be permitted to fly 50 round trips a week between the two countries, up from 35 currently, the US Department of Transportation said in a statement Monday.

The decision, which came after an earlier increase in October, “is in the public interest,” the US department said in the statement. “We believe that our present action is a significant step forward in further normalization of the US-China market in anticipation of the summer 2024 traffic season,” it said. 

China’s international flights have undergone a slower return since the country reopened after Covid, in comparison with the domestic market. The resumption of direct flights between China and the US has been particularly sluggish. There were just 63 per week by the end of 2023, compared with 340 before Covid, according to data from the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

The US decision also came after a pledge made by the CAAC in early January that it would push for a “significant increase” in direct flights between China and the US.

Several Chinese carriers including Air China Ltd., China Eastern Airlines Corp., China Southern Airlines Co. and Hainan Airlines Holding Co. operate direct flights to and from the US, competing against the likes of American Airlines Group Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc.

--With assistance from Danny Lee.

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