Chinese airlines add more overseas flights as industry eyes post-pandemic recovery
Published: Mar 16, 2023 03:10 PM
Travelers carry their luggage before boarding an international flight from Shanghai Pudong International Airport on February 6, 2023. Photo: IC

Travelers carry their luggage before boarding an international flight from Shanghai Pudong International Airport on February 6, 2023. Photo: IC

Chinese airlines are rapidly scaling up the number of overseas flights following the country's lifting travel restrictions after the pandemic. The industry is confident the recovery will continue with more supportive measures in place.  

The increase of Air China's flight capacity for international routes in February was up 167.4 percent year-on-year, following China Eastern Airlines' 425.9 percent increase and China Southern Airlines' 317 percent jump, according to operational data released by the carriers on Wednesday.

Similar growth was also reflected in their January financial reports, with the increase of the three giants' overseas passenger capacity up by more than 100 percent.

Although such increases are very impressive, market watchers noted that the eye-catching growth was due to airlines starting from an artificially low base due to travel restrictions. 

Data from information provider VariFlight showed that accumulated passenger flights as of Sunday was 25,900, an increase of 187 percent over the same period last year, but a decrease of 86 percent from the same period in 2019.

But international flights are expected to continue to come back online, given supportive government policies. 

China resumed outbound group tours for Chinese citizens to another 40 countries including Nepal, Vietnam, Iran, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Brazil starting from Wednesday, the second group of destinations in China's pilot program for outbound group tours, after the country resumed cross-border group tours to an initial 20 countries and regions on February 6.

"Although we didn't organize group tours to any of the 60 countries, inquiries and reservations for those countries' travel products have been hot," according to information sent by domestic travel company Shanghai Spring Tour to the Global Times on Wednesday.

Currently, the company has launched more than 1,000 outbound travel products. Orders for tourism products for Kenya, Italy and Thailand's Changmai have surged, in some cases even exceeding 2019 levels.  

China Eastern said its international and regional routes will recover to a total of 75 in March, an increase of 8 routes compared with February, covering 29 countries and regions. According to an internal timeline, China Southern Airlines also said it will further increase its international and regional routes to 177 flights per week before April.

Hainan Airlines restored a route from Haikou, South China's Hainan Province to Singapore on Wednesday. The airline has now has resumed or launched new routes from Beijing to cities such as Brussels, Moscow and Manchester.

Overseas airlines are busy reopening routes to China. Qatar Airways announced earlier that it will resume passenger service between Doha and Beijing in Summer 2023 with daily flights to Beijing Daxing International Airport starting March 26, making it one of the first international airlines to fly to China's newest mega gateway following the removal of border restrictions.

To boost the market's tourism and trade recovery, the airline said it is also scaling up its capacity to four other Chinese cities this summer, including two daily flights to Hong Kong, daily flights to Guangzhou and Shanghai, as well as four weekly flights to Hangzhou where the 19th Asian Games is expected to be held from September 23 to October 8, with regional travel demand expected to spike ahead of and during the event.