China’s recovering market deemed a ‘lifesaver’ for European airlines
Published: Jun 02, 2020 03:58 PM

A Lufthansa jet sits on the runway at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: AP

China's market could be a "lifesaver" for European airlines, some of whom have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy under the fallout of COVID-19 that has grounded most planes, industry insiders said. 

With China steadily restarting its economy and the opening of more chartered flights between China and foreign countries, some European business representatives told the Global Times that they have been looking to China to "play a role" in boosting European carriers' revenues and for other regulation reforms in Beijing in the post-virus era to ameliorate their financial woes. 

The European aviation industry has been hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with international flights coming to a virtual standstill, said Tom Groot Haar, policy and communications coordinator of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC). "As of last week, we're [at a capacity] 50 percent lower than last year. The passenger number is still very bad," Haar told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Major European airlines including Lufthansa Group and Air France-KLM reported massive net losses in the first quarter due to the pandemic. The operating losses of Lufthansa, the largest European carrier, hit 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) during the first three months of the year. Industry insiders predict that the second-quarter performance will be worse than the first quarter. 

While the recovery of the European aviation market hinges on the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under firm control, "What China could do is at some point allow European airlines to resume flights to China under… certain testing and quarantine procedures," Joerg Wuttke, president of the EUCCC, told the Global Times. 

"When travel resumes, China can play a role. And there is a necessity for a uniform approach when opening up again," Wuttke added. 

Under the "Five-One" policy launched by the Chinese government in March that aims to curb imported COVID-19 infections, one European airline can fly to one Chinese city per week, and occasionally chartered flights between China and European nations are allowed, according to Haar.

On Sunday, the first chartered flight from Germany to China carrying up to 200 German passengers, arrived at North China's Tianjin Municipality. A second chartered flight from Germany carrying some 200 business travelers is scheduled to arrive in Shanghai Thursday, the Global Times learned. 

Qi Qi, an independent market analyst, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China might be a key engine in rejuvenating the European aviation industry, considering the bulk of Chinese students studying in Europe and closer bilateral business ties in the wake of fraying China-US relations.

"China is the first in the world to walk out of the clouds cast by the pandemic, while the coronavirus death toll in the US - the largest trading partner of the EU - has surpassed 100,000. It is easy to tell who could ignite hope," Qi noted. 

The EUCCC also said in a report issued on Tuesday that European countries have been looking to upgrade air traffic rights with China. It also urged local aviation regulators in China to reform slot allocation procedures, financial support practices, and the air traffic management system to bring operations more in line with international norms.

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