After being hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak at the start of the year, China’s three largest carriers saw some degree of recovery in domestic traffic for April — even while their international networks continue to suffer steep declines. 

Of the three, only Air China saw fewer domestic passengers for the month, carrying 2.65 million passengers, a 4.2% month-on-month drop. 

China Southern and China Eastern Airlines both reported higher numbers of passengers carried on their respective domestic networks. China Southern carried 3.83 million passengers for the period, a 6.1% month-on-month increase, while China Eastern reported a 25% increase in domestic passengers carried, at 2.64 million passengers. 

However, the three carriers all carried far fewer domestic passengers year on year, with decreases of between 62% to 70%. 

On capacity, only China Eastern saw a month-on-month increase in its domestic network, with ASKs for the month rising about 8.7%. China Southern reported a 3% drop in domestic ASKs, while Air China saw a 13.5% month-on-month decrease. 

Domestic RPKs for April told a similar story, with China Eastern seeing a 21.7% increase compared to March, and China Southern reporting a 3.7% increase. Air China, meanwhile, saw domestic RPKs fall 5.2% month on month. 

Domestic passenger load factors across the three carriers rose for the month, hovering between 64.5% to 66.8%. All carriers reported increases of 4.1 to 7 percentage points. 

Across March and April, China gradually lifted travel restrictions for domestic travel, with carriers slowly reintroducing capacity into their domestic networks. 


Despite some bright spots in their domestic networks, the ‘Big Three’ still suffered from weakened demand in their international network, in part due to travel restrictions imposed globally. 

China Southern carried just 29,700 passengers internationally for the month, 78% lower than in March, and a 98.2% year-on-year drop. 

Air China carried 15,300 passengers across its international network, a drop of nearly 90% month on month, and a 99% year-on-year decline. 

As for China Eastern, it carried 17,600 passengers for the month. This was 87% lower month on month, and nearly 99% lower year on year. 

The three carriers saw huge month-on-month drops in international ASKs and RPKs for the month. International passenger load factors remained depressed, hovering below 50% across the three airlines.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak led to the three carriers turning to the red for the quarter ended 31 March, with all of them warning of steeper losses in the coming quarters.