PARIS, FRANCE — Air France is calling for a level playing field with Chinese airlines as capacity rebuilds between the two countries after China's lengthy Covid-19 lockdown. The airline supports the increased capacity between France and China, but emphasizes the need for fair competition since there exists a distortion of competition that needs addressing.

By July, Air France plans to operate two daily flights to and from China, with daily routes to Beijing and Shanghai Pudong, pending regulatory approvals. The airline will also provide daily flights between Paris CDG and Hong Kong International. The French government, which owns 29% of Air France, is advocating for a "progressive and balanced" return of connections to China. Several ministries are set to discuss the issue this week.

According to unnamed sources, Air France would support the government limiting Chinese airlines' access to France, as they currently have an unfair advantage being able to fly over Russian airspace, which is closed to many other carriers. Air France is interested in taxes or other measures to establish a similar cost base between them and Chinese airlines.

Increased access to Chinese tourists is important for France's economy, but an overly generous approach towards Chinese airlines could hinder the recovery of the nation's flagship carrier. Prior to the pandemic, Air France operated 32 weekly flights to mainland China. Avoiding flights over Russia adds two to three hours of flying time to China, requiring additional crew, extra fuel, and increased fares for consumers. However, the fees for overflying Russia are so high that avoiding them offsets the cost of longer flights.

A bilateral agreement between France and China, signed in 2017, allowed for hundreds of weekly connections to Chinese airlines but never came into effect due to the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, there were approximately 90 weekly flights between France and China, making Paris the best-connected European city to mainland China.