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Air pact set to fuel China, U.S. travel

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(CNN) -- Travelers flying between the United States and China often complain of a shortage of seats and pricey tickets, but a new deal is expected to change all this.

A recently signed bilateral agreement between the two countries will open up the skies and fuel a five-fold increase in the number of weekly flights between China and the U.S.

Starting from August the number of passenger and cargo flights across the Pacific will grow gradually from the current 54 a week to 249 by the end of the decade.

"This is reflective of the growing trade between China and the U.S.," Norman Mineta, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said when he signed the agreement on June 18.

"(It recognizes that) air services both on the cargo side and the passenger side have to grow with that increased trade."

Under the agreement, five new airlines can start flights between the two countries. Also many more Chinese cities are included in the agreement.

Until now, Chinese carriers could fly to only 12 airports in the U.S. and U.S. carriers were limited access to three Chinese cities.

The agreement is likely to fuel many new business opportunities on both sides of the Pacific and provide more competition for China's domestic carriers.

Last year, Chinese airlines had still not used all of the slots they were entitled to under the previous aviation agreement with the United States.

Civil Aviation Administration of China Minister Yang Yuanyuan said this had to do with a lack of "Chinese airline competitiveness in the marketplace."

New markets

The new civil aviation agreement is likely to open up new markets in China for airline parts, fuel, flight control systems and expertise. It will also allow more U.S. engineers to work closely with Chinese aircraft makers.

"We have to assist China in developing their capabilities in order to develop the market that we want to benefit from," Bill Stone from Parker Aerospace in California told CNN.

"So there is some necessity that we share our advancements, as well as benefit from the collaboration ourselves."

The two countries plan to expand the aviation agreement in 2006, opening up China's skies even further.

-- CNN's Tara Duffy contributed to this report

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