As the crow flies, Los Angeles offers a quicker route to China than New York would. Not for U.S. airlines.

A combination of economic and geographic factors kept Los Angeles International Airport out of the mix when the U.S. Department of Transportation tentatively granted 14 newly opened weekly routes to China to two airlines as part of a bidding competition.

The winners were Continental Airlines Inc., which plans to start offering a daily non-stop service to Beijing later this year out of Newark's Liberty International Airport, and AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, scheduled to begin offering non-stop service to Shanghai next year from Chicago's O'Hare International.

While both carriers fly from LAX, neither considered offering non-stop service from Los Angeles. No U.S. carrier offers non-stop flights to China from L.A. despite the region's vast Asian population and a growing business community traveling to China and they are unlikely to for some time.

"Obviously, a big factor is the hub," said Kevin Schorr, research director at Campbell-Hill Aviation Group in Alexandria, Va. "If you look at American's network in Chicago, it's immense. And the connection possibilities are huge, including connections from some of the bigger metropolitan communities."

The new flights were awarded as part of a U.S.-China aviation agreement signed in July 2004 designed to increase weekly flights between the two countries to 249 by 2010 from the current 54. The DOT is taking public comment and a final decision is expected by March 9.

In announcing its decision, the DOT emphasized the connection possibilities at Chicago and Newark, bypassing a bid from Delta Air Lines, which intended to run its daily non-stop service to Beijing from its hub in Atlanta.

"Los Angeles would not be in the running for us," said American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner. "If we had the opportunity to start more services in the future, Dallas/Fort Worth, our largest hub, would be at the top of the list if not the primary focus."

The only airline that might consider LAX a hub is UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, the largest operator at the airport. But United already offers non-stop service to Beijing and Shanghai from San Francisco International Airport, and sought in its bid to add seven daily flights to Guangzhou from there.

In choosing the carriers, the DOT said it was seeking both competitive and geographic balance among the nation's airports.


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