UTC 03:16

Chinese domestic flights recover as Covid crisis eases

As the country in which Covid-19 originated, China has endured its fair share of challenges in 2020. In common with many other countries, this has impacted on every aspect of Chinese society, including the aviation industry.

With China on lockdown, flights have slumped in the world's most populous nation. But as everyday life begins to return to normal, there is evidence that the aviation industry is beginning to make a comeback in China, at least on a domestic level.

Domestic Recovery

Our most recent figures for China indicate that the number of flights in the country has steadily increased to a level that can be reasonably described as healthy. There were 8,062 domestic flights in China, in the week commencing June 25.

However, although this represented a massive increase over recent months, it is also still somewhat down on what would usually be expected:

(Above: Chinese domestic flights)

During the same period last year, there were 9,828 domestic flights, meaning that capacity has reached 82% of what would usually be expected. Clearly this is a step in the right direction, but there is still also some way to go for normal activity to be resumed.

However, although the lifting of Covid restrictions has had a big impact on the domestic market, it is equally clear that international flights remain severely stunted in China. As demonstrated by our most recent figures, there were under 40% the number of international flights from China that would be usually expected:

Nonetheless, China is very marginally ahead of the global trend, with the 41,168 worldwide flights in the most recent period approximately 37% of the traffic experienced last year, before Covid:

(Above: Global commercial flight traffic)

All You Can Fly

Nonetheless, as the market begins to recover in China, carriers are introducing some innovative methods in an attempt to tempt passengers back into the air. This week it was announced that China Southern Airlines will offer travellers 'all you can fly' passes – a promotional initiative intended to help accelerate the revival in air travel.

All you can fly is very much like all you can eat! Passengers purchase a ticket, often priced at around $500, and they then gain access to as many flights as they wish to take. Popular with business travellers in particular, the scheme has already proved popular in China, and may now pave the way for other countries to follow suit.

China Southern's rival China Eastern has also sold over 100,000 similar passes, according to state media in China. This has helped boost passenger numbers of domestic routes; a vital shot in the arm to the ailing aviation industry.

Six other Chinese carriers have also launched similar schemes, and there have been tangible signs of collaboration as well. Qingdao Airlines, Okay Airways and Ruili Airlines have worked together closely in offering joint deals for weekend travel.

Aviation Slump

This initiative is absolutely vital for China, at a time when the aviation industry has understandably slumped in the world's second-largest economy. China's aviation industry lost 34.25 billion yuan (US$4.89 billion) in the second quarter of 2020, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. And passenger numbers were down nearly 70% year-on-year in April.

The Chinese government had taken particularly drastic measures in response to Covid-19, after it initially surfaced in Wuhan, dramatically slashing flight routes and bar most foreigners from returning to the country.

At the time of writing, no Western airlines have chosen to create similar initiatives. But JetBlue ran a 'buy one get one free' promotion recently, and it is believed that many carriers are carefully monitoring the Chinese effort.

Domestic Focus

Regardless of its success or otherwise, 'all you can fly' promotions are likely to be limited to the domestic market. Luya You, transportation analyst at BOCOM International, told Reuters that restrictions and market conditions would make it difficult to extend such schemes to international travel.

“While these packages may work in domestic markets, we do not expect similar rollouts for outbound routes anytime soon,” You commented.

As the world continues to revert to relative normality following the Covid crisis, Radarbox will continue to bring you all of the latest news, and most important data.

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