China facilitates inbound international travel

Special: Battle against the new coronavirus

China’s aviation regulator has decided to ease rules on the suspension of overseas flights due to COVID-19, in a move many believe will boost inbound travel.

Starting Sunday, any flight with five detected cases of COVID-19 will be grounded for one week when confirmed cases are four percent of all on board, and for two weeks when confirmed cases are eight percent, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said (CAAC), said on Sunday.

The rule does not mention policy settings for flights with fewer than five confirmed cases.

“The move aims to promote Chinese and foreign travel exchanges and aims to scientifically and accurately do a better job in epidemic prevention and control,” CAAC said.

CAAC stated that the relevant policies will be adjusted in a timely manner in accordance with the epidemic prevention requirements.

Previously, flights with more than five but fewer than 10 confirmed passengers with COVID-19 were grounded for two weeks. For flights with 10 passengers infected with COVID-19, airlines must suspend operations for four weeks under rules effective May 1, 2021.

Market watchers said inbound travel requirements would be relaxed.

For example, a Boeing 777 that can carry 305 to 440 people is allowed to carry 228 to 330 passengers under the 75 percent capacity requirement set by the CAAC, so when the number of infected people is 4 percent of those on board, the flight will will be suspended for a week, a significant relaxation of the previous requirement, Wang Yi, manager in charge of airline ticket data at industry information provider VariFlight, told the Global Times on Sunday.

“In the past, the rule attached great importance to the number of confirmed cases when it reached five, but now it doesn’t,” Wang noted.

The new rules halved the suspension period, which will help international flights to China resume, especially long-haul intercontinental flights from Europe and the US with wide-body aircraft, Lin Jiji, an independent market watcher, told the Global Times on Sunday.

VariFlight data shows that the average utilization rate for wide-body aircraft in July this year was 1.16 hours per day, compared to 10-11 hours in 2019.

In 2020, China adopted the “Five One” policy to limit imported cases, which allowed Chinese carriers to operate only one outbound flight per week on one route to any country and foreign airlines to operate only one flight per week to China.

The country has suspended 768 international flights so far this year to limit transmission of the virus, said Kong Fanwei, a CAAC official, at a press conference on May 23 this year.

But the policy was slowly changed and the regulator is now allowing more domestic and foreign airlines to resume international flights.

CAAC said in June that it was in talks with some countries to gradually increase their scheduled international passenger flights to meet staff exchange needs.

In July, CAAC officials said China would improve communication with countries to increase the number of international flights in the second half of this year.

Meanwhile, the country also halved the collective quarantine time for international arrivals to seven days from the previous 14 days, providing a fresh boost to the outbound travel market.

Outbound international passenger flights from China are likely to grow more than 200 percent month-on-month in August, VariFlight data shows, with flights to the US in particular expected to quadruple.

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