China’s air passenger numbers down 45% year-on-year over Lunar New Year

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Travellers at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s air passenger traffic fell 45.16% year-on-year over Lunar New Year, the aviation regulator said on Thursday, though signs of a quick recovery are emerging due to the country’s success in curbing domestic transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Passenger numbers stood at 3.57 million over the 7-day holiday period, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement on its website, adding that average load factor, a measure of seats filled, stood at 57.51%.

However, signs of a pick-up are emerging.

CAAC data showed the number of international cargo flights during the 7-day period surged 212.48% year-on-year.

Data from the brokerage Jefferies (NYSE:) also showed domestic seat capacity, which during the week of February 8 plunged to the lowest level since February last year, is slated to increase 65.5% this week, compared with the previous week.

“With only one local infection case in China since 7 February, we expect travel restrictions to be relaxed, with the pent-up demand leading to higher load factors before the final stage of the recovery – higher ticket prices,” said Andrew Lee, equity analyst at Jefferies.

Though Chinese refrained from travelling over the holiday, they kept spending.

The sales of nine duty-free stores on the holiday resort island of Hainan exceeded 1.5 billion yuan ($232.27 million) during the 7-day holiday, doubling that of 2019 new year holiday before the coronavirus outbreak, the local government said on Thursday.

Government data shows that during the seven days, 660 million parcels were delivered in the country, up 260% compared with the Lunar New Year period last year, when the China was in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic.

Online spending, express deliveries, box office revenues and local tours received a strong boost during the holiday period, due to the large number of people who shelved travel plans and switched to other forms of celebrating, ANZ said in a note on Thursday.

“Thanks to low base effects, China’s retail sales for January-February this year will likely report double-digit growth. A key question is whether the job market will continue to recover and support the momentum in consumption,” said Betty Wang, senior China economist at ANZ.

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