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A coalition of technology companies, including Intel and IBM, are calling for restrictions on US-China flights to be eased after a shortage of capacity forced manufacturers to charter aircraft for shipments.

The High-Tech Shippers’ Council has been granted observer status at bilateral aviation talks between the US and China starting on Tuesday in Washington, part of the wider trade discussions accompanying the US visit of President Hu Jintao. These aim to build on the landmark 2004 deal which opened the way for a five-fold increase in the number of flights between the two countries by 2009.

The talks are usually restricted to government officials and representatives from the air transport industry. The invitation highlights the problems facing shippers in the fast-growing market, with airborne exports from the US to China rising three-fold between 2000 and 2004.

“What we’d like to see is agreement by the two countries for even greater expansion,” said Steve Harper, Intel’s director of government affairs and the council’s co-chairman. The peak fourth-quarter shipping season for Intel’s semiconductors forced the company and other tech rivals to use more expensive charter flights as there was insufficient capacity in the bellies of passenger aircraft.

The council, with backing from members including Solectron, Applied Materials and Sun Microsystems, will join US passenger and cargo carriers at this week’s talks in seeking to accelerate the timetable for increased service granted under the 2004 deal.

However, while Chinese carriers are generally in favour of further deregulation, they are currently not using their full allocation of flights to the US as airlines await new aircraft deliveries and focus attention on alternative routes ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Lenovo, which bought IBM’s PC business last year, is the only Chinese member of the shippers’ council, but has not been active in the current campaign.

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