Chinese airlines not likely to rebound for at least two years
05/20/2020|10:30:58 PM|Forbes

There are indications that China’s air transportation system is already experiencing a recovery from the COVID-19 epidemic.

Reviews of schedule filings show that Chinese airlines are adding flights back, even in some regions to as much as 70% of pre-epidemic levels. This has led to conclusions that air travel in the Middle Kingdom is on the big-time upswing.

Caution is urged here. Things are not what they appear to be.

Despite reports of restoration of capacity toward pre-COVID levels, China’s air transportation system is not likely to fully recover for at least another two years. This is based on a number of factors: pre-COVID traffic trends, current economic trends in China, and, importantly, a certain collapse of international leisure traffic, both inbound and outbound.  

This long-term air service contraction will have repercussions across the global aviation industry.

In China, there is a lot more to a “rebound” than just schedule filings or restoration of flights. The Chinese air transportation system does not have the same market factors or operational drivers as do carriers in the rest of the world, particularly the United States and Europe. In China, many airline decisions are made by government and bureaucratic entities, and not due to careful route analyses.

In a very real sense, COVID-19 only accelerated what was already starting to be a correction in the Chinese air travel market.

While reliable economic data are difficult to find from various sources, a rebound will depend on how fast the global economy rebounds, and what new role China will play in it.

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