Chinese domestic demand picks up again after Olympic slump; international traffic still down 20%

Image: China Airport Terminal
Construction of the new $2 billion, 400,000sqm, Terminal 3 at Shenzhen began this year. Phase 1, scheduled for completion in 2015, will provide an initial capacity of 24 million.

In 2007 China’s airlines grew their passenger numbers by 16% to over 185 million. Some 90% of these passengers were flying domestically which means that China’s airports handled over 350 million passengers on Chinese airlines alone, plus a few million arriving and departing on foreign airlines.

After a bright start in January and February continued passenger demand growth has been disrupted by a number of factors including a major earthquake in May and the hosting of the summer Olympics in August.

Chart: Chinese Airline Passengers
Source: CAAC

International travel has been more severely impacted as a result of increased security and more rigorous controls on the distribution of visas. Since July international air passenger numbers have been more than 20% below last year’s figures. After a sluggish summer domestic air travel finally grew once more in September, by just over 3%. Total traffic grew by just 0.7% in September but this follows four straight months when total traffic on Chinese airlines had fallen.

Chart: Chinese Airline Passengers monthly
Source: CAAC

China’s seasonality profile shows the usual winter dip but also a dip in June. The negative impact of the Olympics on travel demand in August can clearly be seen. Year-to-date passenger numbers are up just 1.7%, well below the 14% forecast last year. Domestic traffic is up 2.6% but international traffic is down 7.8%.

Chart: Monthly load factor
Source: CAAC

Load factors on China’s airlines averaged around 76% in 2007. Up until April this year load factors had been comparable but since then they have been significantly lower, especially in August when they were down almost 10 percentage points.


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