U.S. Government officials are distressed over what they believe may be an improper attempt by Trans World Airlines to strike a deal with the Chinese to provide air service before the two countries work out a new bilateral agreement, sources said yesterday.
According to one source, TWA officials may have gone behind the backs of U.S. negotiators and urged the Chinese to sign a contract which stated that TWA would begin providing flights between the United States and China almost immediately. The Chinese were reportedly assured that if they signed the contract, TWA would make sure the proper U.S. approvals would be given within 10 days, one source said. A special exemption from the Civil Aeronautics Board and the President's approval would be needed for such an arrangement.
U.S. and Chinese negotiators have been meeting on and off for months now in an attempt to hammer out a new bilateral agreement governing air services between the two countries, which were suspended more than 30 years ago. The talks, which have been in recess since July 1, are expected to resume later this month or early in September.
Besides some special charters that have been flown since the thaw in relations between the two countries, only a handful of nonstop passenger flights to China have been available to the general public.
Officials at the CAB and the State Department declined comment on the allegations concerning TWA. But one source confirmed that government officials are gathering evidence to see whether a full-blown investigation is warranted, or whether any U.S. law may have been violated. One source said the Logan Act makes it a criminal violation to interfere with government negotiations but has not to his knowledge been invoked because of the serious first-amendment problems it raises.
It is not surprising that airlines want to ingratiate themselves with foreign governments in the hopes they will be looked on favorably, one source said, especially if, as in the case of the Chinese, only one or a limited number of airlines will be allowed to serve the route.