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United Airlines to seek approval for service to Xian, China

United Airlines planes are seen on platform at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, July 8, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

(Reuters) - United Airlines Inc plans to become the first carrier in the world to operate flights between the United States and Xian, China, a popular tourist destination close to the famous Terracotta Army site.

The U.S. carrier said it would apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation for approval to start seasonal nonstop flights between San Francisco and Xian from May next year.

The Chicago-based carrier already flies to more cities in mainland China than its U.S. rivals.

U.S. airlines are jockeying to gain a foothold in China, which the International Air Transport Association estimates will be the largest passenger market by 2030.

To gain a leg up on United, Delta Air Lines Inc recently bought a stake in China Eastern Airways Ltd.

United said on Tuesday it intends to use Boeing Co's 787-8 Dreamliner for the three-times-a-week service, starting from May 10 to Oct. 29 next year.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Savio D'Souza)