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Domestic air travel rises on pent-up demand

Updated: Jul 5, 2022 By ZHU WENQIAN China Daily Print
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Passengers get out of the cabin of a plane landed at Turpan Jiaohe Airport in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in June. [Photo by LIU JIAN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Since early June, the domestic air travel market has been recovering steadily and has seen a growing number of daily passenger flights, fueled by increasing travel demand, especially from students and business travelers.

In the past few months, due to a resurgence of local cases of COVID-19, the domestic air travel market experienced a challenging period, and the number of domestic passenger flights slumped.

In April, the total number of daily flights operated domestically stood at about 2,000 to 3,000, which was less than one-fourth of the level recorded in the same period last year, according to Flight Master, an intelligent travel services platform in China.

From late May to June, local COVID-19 cases have been brought under better control. The government's policy support for domestic airlines will help domestic carriers to hedge against declining passenger numbers, and the domestic air travel market has shown an apparent recovery trend.

On June 12, the number of daily passenger flights operated domestically exceeded 7,000. On June 19, the number reached nearly 8,200, according to Flight Master. For Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, on June 20, the number of flights operated by the carrier reached 1,274, hitting a new high since April, when the number of flights operated daily was as low as 240.

"This summer, demand for long-distance travel is expected to recover rapidly, and main traveler flows will still come from short-distance and mid-distance travels," said Cheng Chaogong, chief researcher with the tourism research institute of Tongcheng Travel, a Suzhou, Jiangsu province-based online travel agency.

In the first two weeks of June, the volume of flight tickets booked nationwide rose 31 percent over the previous two-week period. This summer, the number of people traveling is expected to resume to more than 70 percent of the level recorded in the summer of 2019, when there was no pandemic, said Tongcheng Travel.

In particular, the travel market supported by business travel and those visiting family members will resume better than the vacation market, Tongcheng Travel added.

Cities including Chengdu in Sichuan province, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province, Kunming in Yunnan province and the municipality of Chongqing have become hot destinations that have witnessed higher volumes of flight ticket bookings, according to Qunar, a Beijing-based online travel agency.

"After the national college entrance examinations finished in early June, the tourism sector started to embrace the first group of bookings for the summer, and travel volume by flights and rail is expected to grow further," said Lan Xiang, director of Qunar's data research department.

"The recent increase in the number of available domestic flights will also meet demand that will emerge in the travel peak period in the summer, as the nation has returned to a regular work and production pace after local cases came under better control," Lan said.

In addition, the number of travelers who recently took trains also increased significantly, and most of this demand came from students, Qunar said.

Meanwhile, industry experts forecast that the international air travel market will recover faster this summer.

"With the further recovery of the international market, China's domestic air travel market is expected to see a new balance between supply and demand, and prices of domestic flight tickets are expected to return to their actual values," said Qi Qi, an aviation industry analyst and columnist for Carnoc, a major civil aviation website in China.

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