As we know, China has had a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19. It has had some of the strictest regulations in the world, including enforcing lockdown after lockdown to stamp out Covid. This in turn has taken a terrible toll on Chinese aviation.
Hong Kong, which was once a centre of aviation activity, has since struggled to maintain pre-pandemic levels of flights operating in and out of the region. According to Willie Walsh, Director General of International Air Transport Association (IATA) Hong Kong has evidently fallen off the radar as a global aviation hub. With reference to website Simple Flying, Hong Kong Airport before the pandemic in February 2019, handled 5.89 million passengers. In February of this year however, the airport only handled 86,000 passengers.
It will clearly take a long time for aviation to recover and for Hong Kong to possibly regain its position. Before the pandemic, the Asia Pacific region as a whole was the world’s fastest-growing region. China has still been seen to fall behind even as lockdown rules have been relaxed throughout other countries in the Asia Pacific region.
Lifting of Restrictions
However, the situation has since been changed. According to Simple Flying, China has started to relax Covid restrictions. From Sunday onwards, individual international flights with cases of Covid that amount to five passengers or 4% of the total number of passengers on board the plane will be suspended (prevented from flying to China) for one week instead of two after arriving. The two weeks is still applicable for cases where 8% of the passengers are found to have Covid.
This is a step forward for China reducing the penalties doled out to airlines as a result of inadvertently having Covid passengers on board. Everyone will realise that having these penalties in a country as populous as China may have been necessary at the height of the pandemic as the country needed to be more vigilant in dealing with the spread of the disease, especially in its most populous cities. This may have been more important as new variants emerged. However, now that the severity of the pandemic is less than before the Chinese authorities are now planning to be more lenient.
Impact of Lockdowns on Chinese Aviation
The fact that the severity of the pandemic is less now is good news for the Chinese aviation industry. The aviation industry over there has suffered over there as a result of the pandemic. According to the IATA, passenger numbers in China have dropped progressively between February and May this year. Passenger numbers in May were 94% below the pre-Covid 2019 level. In addition, lockdowns are still persisting. According to Simple Flying, last weekend the city of Sanya was put into lockdown. Persistent lockdowns have depressed sales to international travellers. Between January and May Sales to international travellers coming in were 97% lower than pre-Covid 2019.
The Chinese Aviation industry clearly has a lot of potential though. In 2021, even though pandemic restrictions were still present to a large extent, the share of global travellers attributable to China’s domestic aviation was 18.9%. This means that aviation within China plays an important role even in global aviation. Because of this, it is clear that China has a long way to go to realise its full potential. However, there is likely to be a blip this year in Chinese aviation due to repeated lockdowns. Nevertheless, the relaxation of Covid rules is a sign that the situation in China is improving and that it is getting ready to boost international travel. We have to wait to see how this progresses.