Flight Friday: How The Removal Of China’s Zero-COVID Policy Impacted Operators

Air China 777-300ER

Air China Boeing 777-300ER

Credit: Boeing

With the upcoming Singapore Airshow, this week’s Flight Friday looks at the impact the removal of China’s zero-COVID policy has had on Asia-Pacific and Chinese operators.

The removal of the zero-COVID policy was always going to have a large impact on Chinese operators. Chinese domestic utilization, when indexed to equivalent month 2019, jumped from around 50%—having seen a turbulent twelve months prior with various local and regional lockdowns—to over 110%. China saw its “revenge travel” surge domestic flights (cycles) for most of 2023, peaking at almost 170% in August. Utilization in 2024 has again started strong, and trends are expected to continue during February with the Lunar New Year always generating a surge in domestic travel.

Chinese operators’ international flights still lagged behind their domestic counter parts, however, the indexed flights moved up from below 20% in December 2022, steadily grew to a little over 60% in the summer schedules and has started 2024 with a strong 85% of January 2019 levels. There is still plenty of room for growth in this sector, with not all the pre-pandemic routes operating, or at least operating at the previous capacity.

Asia-Pacific domestic flights had returned to 2019 levels in mid-2022, as these types of flights are unaffected by anything that China was doing. Asia-Pacific carriers were boosted by the abolition of China’s policy, seeing the start of an upward trend on international traffic from a little over 50% 2019 levels in December 2022, to over 90% by year end. This year started even better with levels of over 100% for Asia-Pacific carriers’ international flights.

The data shows how important the Chinese market is to all operators within the region.

This data was put together using Aviation Week’s Tracked Aircraft Utilization tool.

Daniel Williams

Based in the UK, Daniel is the Manager of Fleet, Flight and Forecast data for Aviation Week Network. Prior to joining Aviation Week in 2017, Daniel held a number of industry positions analyzing fleet data.

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