A senior Air China executive lamented declining air passenger numbers between the US and China and a lack of progress in addressing bilateral civil aviation issues.
Between 2010 and 2017, the number of Chinese visitors to the US ballooned from 735,000 to 3.2 million, driven by a rapidly expanding Chinese middle class and a move by former US President Barack Obama to streamline applications for foreign tourist visas from affluent Chinese visitors. Total US spending by Chinese visitors grew from just over $5 billion in 2010 to over $35 billion in 2017.
During those years, “a lot of money was spent. We bought a lot of airplanes and a lot of goodwill was generated,” Air China VP-North America Zhihang Chi said during a Nov. 7 speech at the International Aviation Club of Washington DC. “I don’t think anybody in this audience would dispute that this was a success story for both countries and an example of successful policymaking.”
The growth trend reversed in 2018 for the first time in more than a decade, when total passengers from China to the US dropped to 3 million. While some of the declines were the result of a slowing Chinese economy and depreciating yuan, Chi said the US-China trade war and souring of bilateral relations have contributed to the drop-off in air travel between the two countries.
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