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China’s international flights set to take off, buoyed by May Day holiday, but US travel suffering delays

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A resumption of international flights to and from China may be faster than expected, buoyed by the restoration of outbound travel, analysts and local media said, although the recovery of connections with the United States remains slow.

Air China would progressively roll out four international routes starting from Sunday, the airline said on its official WeChat account on Tuesday.

Routes between Beijing and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Dhaka in Bangladesh would be added, while the Chinese capital would also be reconnected with Sao Paulo in Brazil as well as Havana in Cuba via a stopover in the Spanish capital of Madrid.

The flight to Sao Paulo is China’s first direct route to Brazil – one of the longest in the world – and Air China hopes it “will strengthen the connection between China and South America, and help Chinese enterprises better expand the South American market”.

We believe [Chinese airlines] will see a strong recovery for both supply and demand side as May Day travel heats up

Zhongtai Securities

The national carrier said it had restored 84 per cent of its international routes to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with routes to Southeast Asia surpassing the previous level by between 20 and 30 per cent.

International flights in China experienced a sluggish recovery last year following the lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions, while a recent uptick in travel ahead of the May Day holiday – also known as Labour Day – next week may drive a faster recovery in the international aviation sector.

The surge in outbound travel demand ahead of the five-day May Day holiday, which starts on Wednesday, is expected to drive the recovery of international flights operated by Chinese airlines, Zhongtai Securities said on Monday.

“China’s airlines are expected to bottom out this year,” the securities company said. “We believe [Chinese airlines] will see a strong recovery for both the supply and demand side as May Day travel heats up.”

Ahead of the May Day holiday, 790,000 international flight tickets have been booked as of Monday, representing an increase of over 1.5 times compared to the same period last year, according to Chinese booking firm Umetrip.

China transported 14.12 million passengers on international routes in the first quarter of the year, marking a 22 per cent decrease from the same period in 2019, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said last week.

But it is close to CAAC’s target set in January to resume international flights to around 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, with 6,000 passenger flights per week targeted by the end of the year.

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Flights to Southeast Asia accounted for 41.6 per cent of the total, with South Korea, Japan and Thailand the top three destinations, CAAC added.

China Eastern Airlines said its international flights have been restored to about 90 per cent of the levels seen in 2019, with Southeast Asian routes surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

China Southern Airlines, meanwhile, said its international flights during the summer are expected to resume to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Data from the airliners suggested that China’s international aviation sector is recovering faster than expected, Shanghai-based media outlet Yicai said on Friday.

The recovery level of international routes is an important factor in whether China’s civil aviation can turn a profit this year

Yicai

But flights to the US are experiencing a sluggish recovery, with Air China’s routes having only recovered to roughly 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. China Southern Airlines said the figure stood at about 21 per cent.

Only six airlines in China operate round-trip flights between China and the US.

“The recovery level of international routes is an important factor in whether China’s civil aviation can turn a profit this year,” Yicai said.

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