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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Asks U.S. To Block Aeroflot

Chicago-based U.S. carrier United Airlines has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation urging the agency to bar Russia's flag carrier, Aeroflot, from flying to Chicago, Washington and San Francisco.

United contends that Russia's decision to disallow United Airlines-Lufthansa joint flights on the U.S.-Frankfurt-Moscow route violates the 1993 air transport agreement between the two countries.

Though a decision on United's request is not imminent, the feud highlights the importance Western airlines put on the potentially huge market for air travel to Russia.

United Airlines spokesman Richard Martin said the airline had finally decided to complain -- two years after the agreement with the German airline was disallowed -- because all discussions with Russian authorities had failed.

"We have exhausted all other avenues," Martin said by telephone from United's headquarters in Chicago. "This is our last resort, and we are hoping the issue will be raised during negotiations with the Russian government."

United also complained that Russia had turned down its application to use a recently estab The issue could be raised later this month when U.S. Vice President Al Gore visits Moscow to meet with President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin. The vice president is coming to Russia for one of the twice-yearly meetings of the so-called Gore-Chernomyrdin commission on economic and scientific cooperation.

United Airlines' complaint highlights a long-running area of conflict in which Western airlines accuse Russia of hindering their access to Russian destinations in an effort to protect Aeroflot. It is also reluctant to cede control over international routes to third countries across Russian airspace. Such routes, especially over Siberia, could cut flight times and save billions of dollars in fuel, especially for airlines flying to Asian destinations.

"The actions of the Russian civil aviation officials are damaging not only to U.S. airlines, but also to airlines in the Russian Federation," United's vice president for international affairs, Cyril Murphy, said in a statement.

Representatives of the Russian Federal Aviation Service, or FAS, on Wednesday dismissed United's complaint as "baseless."

They contended that United's code-sharing agreement with Lufthansa contravened an earlier Russian-German accord forbidding German carriers from code-sharing deals on Moscow routes.

Code sharing allows two airlines to coordinate their flight timetables and opens access to each other's reservation systems.

"In practice, Lufthansa should not have entered this agreement with United Airlines," said Sergei Seskutov, deputy head of the FAS department responsible for licensing foreign airlines flying to Russia.

"U.S. airlines will suffer far greater damage if Aeroflot is sanctioned. We are seriously considering some really stern measures," he said.

He did not elaborate, but he noted that about 20 U.S. carriers now fly to Russian cities or use Russian airspace en route to destinations throughout Asia.

Martin said Russia's refusal to accept the code sharing deal smacks strongly of protectionism.

"Regardless of what the Russians say, the letter of the agreement between the United States and Russia authorizes third country code sharing, and Russia is refusing to accept that," he said. "The issue [with Germany] should not affect U.S. airlines."

"They are clearly taking a shot at Lufthansa, which is Aeroflot's main competitor," he said.

Lufthansa officials in Moscow would not respond to questions about the code-sharing agreement with United Airlines.

Repeated calls to Aeroflot's press spokesman Wednesday went unanswered.

Earlier this year, a group of smaller Russian airlines petitioned the FAS to restrict accords allowing foreign airlines to fly to Russia's regions. They claim to have lost substantial business to Lufthansa, which flies direct to several major Russian cities from Frankfurt.

So far, the United-Lufthansa code-sharing deal has been used by the two airlines for less than a year -- from July 1994 to March 1995 -- on daily flights from Frankfurt to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Martin would not disclose how many passengers used the routes, but said the number was "significant."

A U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman, Bill Mosely, said United's complaint is currently under review.

"There is a certain timetable we have to follow when we receive a complaint," he said. "Initially it is 60 days, but we could extend the time table if there is a chance of reaching a resolution."

Seskutov of the FAS also dismissed United's complaint that Russia had violated the terms of the 1993 agreement by barring United from using a time-saving flight route over Siberia to Japan.

"Under technical agreements between our countries, only two air routes are open to international flights," Seskutov said. "United wanted to use one that is not even open yet."