WASHINGTON - US Airways said yesterday that high fuel prices are forcing the airline to seek a one-year delay in starting a route between Philadelphia and Beijing.

In letters to members of Congress and employees, the Tempe, Ariz.-based airline said the cost for fuel to run the route would be more than $90 million a year - $40 million more than the original estimate of about $50 million.

"We're optimistic that economic conditions will be on the upswing in 2010, giving us a better chance of success with our first route to China," Scott Kirby, the company president, said in a letter to workers.

When the airline was given approval last year by the U.S. Transportation Department to create the route, it was announced with fanfare. The airline said it would start the service next year using Airbus A340 jets that would originate in Charlotte, N.C.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement that the China route is a priority for the Philadelphia region, and that the delay was another example of how high gas prices are hurting the economy.

"I hope this delay is only temporary because this route has the potential to be an economic boon to Philadelphia and good business for US Airways," Casey said. *