United Airlines is seeking approval to launch a second daily round-trip between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) in 2020.

The Chicago-based carrier has also asked the US Department of Transportation to reject American Airlines’ (AA) plan to keep, but not operate, some of the treaty-limited frequencies between the two countries.

Flights between the US and Shanghai are subject to so-called “Zone 1” restrictions in the US-China Air Transport Agreement that limit frequencies to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

Recent changes have freed up seven weekly frequencies, and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has applied to use them on proposed Minneapolis-PVG daily services starting in mid-2020. Dallas/Fort Worth-based American has rights to 14 additional weekly frequencies that it used for flights between Chicago and both PVG and Beijing, but the airline—revamping its international network—suspended those services last month, citing “difficult market conditions.”

American has asked DOT for a dormancy waiver that would let it keep the frequencies, but not operate flights until the market bounces back. However, the carrier has been candid in admitting that its Chicago O’Hare-China flights were consistent money-losers.

United’s proposed solution: DOT should reject American’s dormancy-waiver request and grant both proposals for new services.

“Reallocating American’s unused frequencies to other carriers is consistent with the department’s policy that when frequency allocations are not being operated effectively, they should be reallocated in a manner that promotes competition and otherwise best serves the public interest,” United wrote in its application. “Given the number of available and unused frequencies, United and Delta’s applications are not mutually exclusive and the department may grant both applications for seven frequencies each to serve Shanghai. United’s non-opposition to Delta’s application is contingent, however, upon the department denying American’s application for a dormancy waiver.”

United said demand in the New York-Shanghai market has grown about 6% since 2011. “United believes that the market will be ripe for an additional daily flight in 2020, which United is well-situated to provide given its presence in the New York/Newark region,” it added.

United proposes using Boeing 777-200s on the route and said it would be ready to launch flights on or around June 1, 2020.

Despite rising trade tensions between the US and China, airlines say the macro environment remains strong. Delta CEO Ed Bastian specifically highlighted Chinese market revenues as a strong point last quarter, adding that July’s Atlanta-PVG route launch is “doing well.”

United CCO Andrew Nocella said China routes were “strong” last quarter. “We continue to watch demand levels in business class for China flights and have yet to see any reduction in demand for future periods resulting from trade disruptions,” he added.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com