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China’s Diverging Domestic and International Airline Trends
If there’s one thing to say about China’s airline market since the pandemic, it’s that flying is much more domestic now. Seat capacity scheduled to fly within mainland China, over the past 12 months, is up a healthy 9% from before the pandemic, according to Cirium Diio. International seat capacity, however, is down more than 70%, as the chart below shows. You have to go back about 20 years to see China having as few international seats as were offered in the past 12 months.
The market with the sharpest decline in seats is North America. But all major foreign markets are far below the 2019 levels, as detailed below. On the other hand, Chinese airlines have significantly increased their activity in the domestic market. In the current July-to-September quarter alone, China’s domestic seat capacity will be up 19% from 2019, to reach an all-time record high for the country. But international capacity this quarter is still down almost 50%.
Even to popular tourist markets like Thailand, which has seen some recovery in Chinese tourists, capacity also remains about 50% below where it was pre-pandemic. A big question for airlines is whether China’s international market will ever reach its former size.
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