‘Beacon of hope’ as China sees domestic air travel capacity return

Domestic airline capacity in China is beginning to recover, with over 30 per cent of its domestic capacity returning in the last two months, according to new analysis from Cirium.

Domestic capacity has recovered from a peak year-on-year drop of 71 per cent on February 24 to down just 33 per cent on April 22.

As many countries in Asia have passed what is hoped to be the peak of the pandemic, Cirium’s data shows trends of increased air travel capacity for the region, with intra-Asia capacity improving by 10 per cent between April 14 and April 22.

Global regions still under lockdown, including the US and Europe, are yet to show signs of recovery, however Cirium analysis indicates a plateau is starting to emerge in airline capacity worldwide from April 22.

“While cancellations remain high and the recovery in domestic flights has plateaued over the last month, the ‘green shoots’ of recovery in China’s domestic market are a beacon of hope for the aviation industry,” said Rob Morris, head of consultancy at Ascend by Cirium.

“With airline fleets grounded around the world, the Covid-19 crisis represents an unprecedented collapse in demand for air travel. We need to see the current airline shutdown phase finally reach its end before we can assess how long the airline hibernation phase lasts – only then will we see the start-up of recovery and stabilisation.

“Even at this stage, growth will depend on a range of external factors, from the level of government support received by the industry to consumer confidence in the market post-lockdown.”

The Covid-19 crisis has seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of airline capacity scheduled globally. Global airline capacity is expected to drop by 75 per cent by the end of April, compared with the same period last year.

Given the global capacity plunge, Cirium data shows that around 16,800 passenger aircraft, including regional jets, parked around the world on April 22. This is the equivalent of almost two thirds of the entire global fleet – made up of around 26,300 passenger jets.

“Since the beginning of March alone, more than 12,000 passenger jets have been placed into storage globally,” said Morris.

“However, the pace of parking has slowed throughout April suggesting it is now stabilizing.”

The reverse trend has been observed in China, which accounted for 40 per cent of the 1000 passenger aircraft that returned to service over the same period, as restrictions on air travel are gradually lifted in the country.

“Covid-19 is creating a stress-scenario beyond anything we could ever have imagined in the industry,” said Morris.

“Airlines and the entire travel and tourism economy face an extremely challenging few months ahead, but with government and financial support, the sector will return to health.”