Delta Air Lines Inc. and US Airways Group Inc., the only major U.S. carriers that operate internationally without China flights, won U.S. permission to fly to the Asian nation.
Delta may start service as soon as practical and US Airways in 2009, the Transportation Department said in an order Tuesday. It also awarded United Airlines flights in 2008, and new service for American Airlines, Continental Airlines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. beginning in 2009.
U.S. airlines want access to China to tap an economy that in the second quarter grew at the fastest pace in 12 years.
The announcement was part of an agreement signed in July with China to double the number of daily flights between the U.S. and China over the next five years. The agreement also allows for new cargo flights operating to and from the two nations.
Atlanta-based Delta will fly a route from Atlanta to Shanghai beginning March 30, said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, who made the announcement from Delta's giant hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Delta's flight to China's financial hot spot is the first to China by a U.S. airline from the Southeast.
Delta, whose westernmost hub is at Salt Lake City International Airport, plans a daily flight between Atlanta and Shanghai using a Boeing Co. 777 plane. US Airways' daily service can begin March 25, 2009, and will be between Philadelphia and Beijing. UAL Corp.'s United will add a daily San Francisco-Guangzhou flight starting March 25 next year.
The new daily flights at American, Continental and Northwest are allowed to start March 25, 2009. AMR Corp.'s American will fly between Chicago and Beijing, Continental between Newark, New Jersey, and Shanghai, and Northwest between Detroit and Shanghai.
Delta beat out Northwest for the 2007 award because it offers ''superior competitive benefits'' and gives the southeastern U.S. its first nonstop China flight, Andrew Steinberg, a department assistant secretary, wrote in the order.
Washington previously was the closest air link for southern businesses with an eye on China. Atlanta's business officials are still trying for an Atlanta-Beijing route, but the earliest that could be awarded is 2010.
Delta CEO Richard Anderson said Peters' announcement was a ''watershed event in terms of opening the Southeast United States to the Chinese marketplace."
Chicago-based United was the sole applicant for the 2008 award.
For the 2009 awards, US Airways, American, Continental and Northwest were picked over United, Delta and MAXjet Airways Inc., a business-only carrier.
Delta shares rose $1.05, or 6.6 percent, to $17.08 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. US Airways gained 62 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $26.60. AMR increased 78 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $21.55; UAL climbed 88 cents, or 2 percent, to $44.11; Continental rose $1, or 3.3 percent, to $31.46; and Northwest was up 46 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $16.53.
Tuesday's announcement brings to 112 the number of weekly passenger flights U.S. carriers will have linking China by 2009. American, United, Continental and Northwest already have service to the Asian nation.
After the new routes begin, United will have 42 flights a week; Northwest, 28; American, 14; Continental, 14; Delta, 7; and US Airways, 7.
Three Chinese carriers, Air China Ltd., China Eastern Airlines Corp. and China Southern Airlines Co., operate 39 weekly flights between the two countries, the department's order said.