China’s recovery continues as daily passengers top 1 million

Chinese carriers have transported more than 1 million passengers in a day for the first time since late January as the country’s market continues to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The number of daily passengers carried by airlines in China topped the 1 million mark on June 5—the first time in four months the figure has been achieved.

According to figures released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the total number of passengers flying during the day was 1.04 million. This is the highest total since Jan. 28 when COVID-19 travel restrictions began to be introduced.

The CAAC said there were 11,333 flights on June 5, the most since February, and added that passenger traffic has now recovered to 61.5% of 2019 levels.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak—which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan—the average daily number of flights totaled 17,300 and the maximum daily passenger traffic was nearly 2 million.

However, the market dropped to its lowest point on Feb. 13 when the number of passengers fell to 132,900 and the number of flights operated decreased to 3,931. This equates to reductions of 92.5% and 77% respectively, when compared to the daily average.

Since February, the recovery in China’s market has been steady. After an initial upsurge in capacity during early March, the number of departure seats plateaued for the next seven weeks before growth resumed in late April. The daily passenger average in March stood at 458,300, rising to 522,700 in April and 785,800 in May.

Analysis of data published by OAG Schedules Analyser shows there will be about 12.4 million departure seats in China this week (w/c June 8), the highest total in four months. Almost 99% of capacity will be on domestic routes. 

This week’s capacity of 12.4 million seats is just 3.5 million fewer than the same week a year ago, meaning that capacity is at 78% of 2019 levels. While 88% of the domestic market has returned, weekly capacity on international routes from China is just 6.4% of this time a year ago. 

However, the CAAC has begun to relax border control restrictions, which should pave the way for more international routes to return.

In late May, the government organisation announced it would let domestic and foreign airlines from eight countries apply for "green channels" for chartered flights to airports in the mainland. The countries included are France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the UK.

On June 4, the CAAC further loosened international flight restrictions following pressure from the US. The move came shortly after President Donald Trump’s administration issued an order to suspend Chinese passenger airlines from flying to the US, beginning June 16.

Foreign airlines will now be able to choose from a list of approved Chinese cities to operate one international passenger flight a week beginning June 8. If a flight’s passengers test negative for the virus for three consecutive weeks, the airline will be able to add one additional fight per week.

Previous regulations in place said that foreign carriers could operate no more than one weekly flight to China, but that airlines could not exceed the level of service they were offering on March 12. The US Transportation Department (DOT) argued the order had effectively banned US carriers from operating routes, as they had voluntarily suspended service between the two countries in February.

Since China announced the easing of restrictions, the DOT has scrapped its plans to ban Chinese airlines flying to the US. 

Photo credit: Nigel Howarth / Aviation Week

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