Airlines lift China international flight capacity as border opens

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways added more than 52,000 seats as the territory's border with the mainland opened. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY/BEIJING - Airlines boosted international seat capacity to and from China in January by 9.5 per cent in the past week as they ramped up flights following the country’s opening of its borders, according to aviation data provider Cirium. But the number of flights remains at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways added more than 52,000 seats as the territory’s border with the mainland opened, putting it ahead of China’s Xiamen Airlines, Juneyao Air and others in the 160,000 round-trip seat additions, schedule data from Cirium analysed by Reuters showed.

The extra capacity comes from a low base, with airlines running only 11 per cent of their pre-pandemic capacity in January, according to Cirium. This has led to high airfares ahead of the week-long Chinese New Year holiday beginning on Jan 21.

Chinese airlines are expected to be the early winners of the country’s international reopening, analysts said, having kept most wide-body planes and staff ready while foreign carriers struggle with capacity constraints after previous border openings.

International capacity to and from China scheduled for February has risen by 23 per cent over the past week, while the figure for March is 13 per cent, Cirium data showed.

A major jump in capacity is expected in April, after the start of the summer airline schedule season that begins on March 26.

Seats to and from China will increase to 4.3 million a month in April, up from about 1.85 million in January, two million in February and 2.7 million in March, according to Cirium data.

The April figure would represent about 25 per cent of the capacity in 2019. REUTERS

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