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Caixin

China resumes more international flights as COVID cases ebb

Aviation authority looks to increase travel to and from Vietnam, Thailand

An official at CAAC said the regulator is negotiating with other nations to gradually increase the number of international flights to the mainland.   © Reuters

China's aviation regulator looks to increase international flight routes as the nation gradually eases COVID-19 cross-border travel curbs.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) hopes to increase flights to and from Vietnam and Thailand, according to local sources.

Vietnam's aviation regulator said on Friday it had received a letter from its Chinese counterpart allowing the airlines of both countries to each run two passenger flights per week, up from one currently.

Meanwhile, Thailand media reported that China has agreed to increase weekly flights between the countries to two from one for eight airlines.

At a briefing on Friday, CAAC official Liang Nan said only that the regulator is negotiating with more nations to gradually increase the number of international flights to the mainland.

The moves show how policymakers are throwing another bone to an airline industry that has been crippled by restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID.

Under the so-called "five-one policy," for the past two years every domestic and overseas airline has only been allowed to operate one return flight from China to another country per week.

The restrictions have pushed the nation's aviation industry to the brink. Some Chinese airlines are facing a risk of insolvency, with mainland-based carriers reporting a collective 67 billion yuan ($10 billion) loss for last year, official data shows.

At the end of 2021, Chinese airlines were operating 279 international routes, 70.7% less than in 2019 before the pandemic, and they completed 1.48 million passenger trips, equivalent to 2% of the total in 2019, according to CAAC.

The five-one policy was opposed by some countries before it took effect, with many overseas airlines stopping flights to China before it was introduced. Under the policy, the Chinese government said it would suspend inbound international routes if a flight was found to have carried even one person infected with the coronavirus, though that threshold has been relaxed to allow a handful of cases per flight.

The suspension policy continues to dog the industry, however. Last week the CAAC ordered some inbound international flights suspended after they each brought in more than five passengers infected with the virus.

Meanwhile, international companies operating in China have been complaining about surging air ticket prices and difficulties in cross-border travel, which have disrupted hiring.

Chinese authorities began introducing supportive measures in May to help rescue the troubled aviation industry, which was hit again as lockdowns across the country beginning in March grounded more domestic flights.

The CAAC announced a plan late last month to subsidize pandemic-hit airlines for as much as 24,000 yuan per flight hour if certain conditions are met. But the plan was suspended days after it came into effect, apparently on concerns about carriers gaming the system.

The subsidy policy resumed on June 10, but no subsidies have been paid out because no carrier has met the threshold, according to aviation sources.

Meanwhile, national flag carrier Air China Ltd. has announced plans to take control of Shandong Airlines Co. Ltd. as part of a bailout of the debt-ridden regional airline.

Hainan Airlines Group this month resumed flying from Shenzhen to Vancouver and plans to restart its Chongqing to Rome route on Thursday.

Singapore Airlines also announced that it will resume round-trip flights from Shenzhen to Singapore in July. From China, the company has only been operating Singapore-bound flights from Shanghai and Chongqing.

Chinese authorities said last week they would relax some other restrictions on people entering the country -- which are some of the world's strictest -- saying they would resume issuing visas for family visits, as well as for certain trade and business purposes, more than two years after the country closed its borders to almost everyone.

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Caixinglobal.com is the English-language online news portal of Chinese financial and business news media group Caixin. Nikkei has an agreement with the company to exchange articles in English.

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