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Eased curbs provide wings for airlines' business plans

By ZHU WENQIAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-07-03 06:57
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A passenger checks in at Istanbul Airport in Turkiye on June 21. The flight by China's Sichuan Airlines, taking off to Chengdu, Sichuan province, marked the flight's resumed service after the pandemic eased. OMER KUSCU/XINHUA

Industry poised for good year after China optimized COVID-19 response measures

There has been a gradual recovery in international travel and increased cross-border flights following China's optimized COVID-19 response measures and easing of restrictions including quarantine-free arrivals in January.

Since June 11, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines has connected Shanghai and Paris via daily round-trips, from three times a week earlier.

According to China Eastern, the route operated using the Boeing B777-300ER aircraft will further promote economic, cultural and tourism exchanges between China and France, and help passengers with travel. China Eastern has operated the flight for 25 years since its inauguration in 1998, and the air carrier has also set up a European marketing center in Paris.

In May, Beijing's total number of inbound and outbound tourists reached some 650,000, up 19 percent over April. Those who arrived at or departed from Beijing Daxing International Airport reached 128,000 in May, a record high this year, according to China Immigration Inspection.

The International Air Transport Association forecasted in early June an expected strengthening of airline industry profitability, in an upgrade of its outlook for 2023.

The global airline industry's operating profits are expected to reach $22.4 billion this year, from the estimate in December of a $3.2 billion operating profit. Meanwhile, some 4.35 billion journeys are expected to travel in 2023, close to the 4.54 billion who flew in 2019, the IATA said.

"Airlines' financial performance in 2023 is beating expectations. Stronger profitability is supported by several positive developments. China lifted COVID-19 restrictions earlier in the year than anticipated. Cargo revenues remain above pre-pandemic levels even though volumes have not. Jet fuel prices, although still high, have moderated over the first half of the year," said Willie Walsh, director-general of IATA.

"Economic uncertainties have not dampened the desire to travel, even as ticket prices absorbed elevated fuel costs. After deep COVID-19 losses, even a net profit margin of 1.2 percent is something to celebrate … Achieving profitability at an industry level after the depths of the COVID-19 crisis opens up much potential for airlines," Walsh said.

From the beginning of this year until June 11, China operated 1.94 million domestic passenger flights, up 92 percent year-on-year, and the number edged up 2 percent over the same period of 2019 before the pandemic, according to VariFlight, a China-based civil aviation data services provider.

During the same period, China operated 109,400 international and regional passenger flights, 600 percent higher on a yearly basis, though the number is still 74 percent lower than the pre-pandemic level, according to data by VariFlight.

With the peak summer season air travel starting from late June, China Eastern will resume more international flights or add frequencies to existing routes, involving flights to destinations such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Southeast Asia, Europe and Oceania.

Since Sunday, China Eastern took its flight frequencies connecting Nanjing, in Jiangsu province, and Tokyo, to three times a week.

Meanwhile, Malaysian budget carrier Air Asia resumed its Airbus A320-operated flight that connects Xi'an, in Shaanxi province, and Bangkok on June 1.

The airline also plans to resume flights that connect Shantou, in Guangdong province, and Kuala Lumpur; Quanzhou, in Fujian province, and Kuala Lumpur; and Shenzhen and Cebu City in the Philippines.

"The flight that connects Xi'an and Bangkok started in 2012, and it has been operating well. The resumption of the route serves as an integral part of our flight network. It also strongly demonstrates our confidence in the tourism demand in the region," said Tang Ting, general manager of Air Asia China.

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