updated 7/17/2007 1:46:31 PM ET 2007-07-17T17:46:31

At least five major U.S. airlines have asked federal regulators for the right to operate new nonstop flights between the United States and China beginning in March 2009.

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American, the largest U.S. carrier, said it applied Monday for a route from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Beijing. A similar bid failed several months ago, partly because American’s management and pilots couldn’t agree on work rules for the flights.

Continental applied Monday to fly between Newark, N.J., and Shanghai. The Houston-based airline said its flights would serve the financial hub of New York and a large Chinese-American population in the area.

US Airways said it is seeking to offer nonstop service between its Philadelphia hub and Beijing, China.

Delta Air Lines Inc. asked to fly from Atlanta to Beijing and Shanghai; and Northwest Airlines Corp. filed to offer service between Detroit and the same two Chinese cities.

Air service between the two countries is restricted by agreements between the two governments. U.S. airlines eager to tap the growing Chinese market must apply to the Department of Transportation for new routes.

In the competition for Chinese routes, U.S. airlines gather support from politicians and customers to sell their proposals to federal regulators. For example, American, a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., boasted support from four U.S. senators and three governors.

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