Recovery in China’s domestic aviation industry picked up speed last month boosted by summer travel demand as life returned to normal after the coronavirus pandemic was brought under control in the mainland, but there was no such luck for the global airline sector.
Domestic flights in August averaged well over 10,000 flights a day, almost the same level as a year earlier, according to VariFlight, a Chinese company specialising in the aviation data services. Overall, more than 28,000 flights – domestic, international and stopovers – took off and landed at mainland airports on average daily in August, an increase of 12 per cent from July.
“The summer break boosted travel demand and because China contained the pandemic well it allowed normal resumption of work and production activities,” said Qi Qi, an associate professor at Guangzhou Civil Aviation College. “The aviation industry relies on economic development. When economic activities and people’s confidence in travel increase, the aviation volume rises naturally. ”
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The volume of domestic flights in August recovered to 95.4 per cent of last year’s level, while 13 Chinese carriers operated more flights compared to a year earlier, according to data from Flight Master, an online Chinese travel platform.
The recovery in air travel is welcome news for China’s aviation industry that suffered 39.82 billion yuan (US$5.6 billion) in first-quarter losses. The International Air Transportation Association expects passenger revenue for airlines operating in China to drop by US$51 billion this year from 2019.
Sanya Phoenix International Airport in Hainan province saw a 12 per cent year on year rise in the number of outbound flights in August, making it the country’s best performing airport by flight volume, data from VariFlight showed. Five other hubs – Ningbo Lishe International Airport, Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, Wenzhou Longwan International Airport, Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, Nanchang Changbei International Airport – also reported year on year growth last month.
Chinese tourists, the world’s largest group of outbound travellers, unable to travel overseas due to travel curbs as the pandemic rages on in most parts of world, flocked to the mainland’s southernmost province last month. Analysts said Hainan also benefited from the release in pent-up demand for consumption after Beijing increased the quota of free-duty shopping in the free-trade zone earlier this year.
The improvement in China’s domestic sector contributed to a small recovery in overall global air traffic. Although revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) – a gauge of air traffic – slumped 79.8 per cent year on year in July, it slowed down from the 86.6 per cent decline in June, IATA said on Tuesday.
“In contrast to domestic RPKs, international demand did not show any significant improvement as new epicentres of Covid-19 emerged in several countries, leading to a reimposition of travel restrictions,” IATA said, adding that consumers were still cautious about travel spending amid an uncertain economic outlook.
Industrywide capacity contraction also slowed as more carriers resumed operations, IATA said. Available seat kilometres, a measure of passenger carrying capacity, declined by 70.1 per cent year on year in July, but it was an improvement of 10 percentage points from June.
Industry observers said the recovery in China’s domestic market could slow down this month as the summer holidays have ended. Uncertainties, including another wave of Covid-19 following the opening of schools as the weather gets colder, could derail the nascent growth, they said.
“The recovery in August may be short-lived,” said Diao Weimin, a professor at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China in Beijing. “The industry will fully recover only when the pandemic has been controlled globally.”
The sector’s complete recovery in China will depend on the lucrative business travel segment, said Diao, noting that some business meetings and conferences could be reduced or cancelled if economic activities shrink during the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, China’s civil aviation regulator on Wednesday announced that international flights connecting the capital Beijing will resume following a five-month suspension due to Covid-19.
Nine Beijing-bound flights from eight foreign countries including Thailand and Canada will start operating from Thursday.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China’s top three carriers see domestic passenger numbers soar in July, pointing to recovery of aviation sector
- Chinese airlines may see a U-shaped recovery in air travel, as global carriers slog through 2023 to see the earliest glimpse of hope
- China Eastern targets business travel with revamp of unlimited flights package as domestic competition intensifies
- China’s tourism sector was already in a ‘death spiral’ – and now Beijing reports a new cluster of Covid-19 cases