China’s three largest airlines began the year with falling traffic, amid the growing spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country and around the world.
In traffic figures released for January, Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines all carried fewer passengers, and recorded drops in passenger load factors.
Regional routes on each of the carriers bore the brunt of falling traffic figures, many notching double-digit decreases for the period.
Air China carried 9.2 million passengers for the month, a 4.1% drop year-on-year. Its regional network saw passenger numbers tumble 18.7% — the largest change across the carrier’s network.
The only bright spot was its international network, which saw a marginal 0.9% rise in passengers carried.
ASKs rose 1.2% year-on-year, which led to a drop in passenger load factor. The Star Alliance carrier saw a 3.3 percentage point decrease in passenger load factor.
Meanwhile, China Eastern carried 10.1 million passengers for January, a 5.4% drop compared to the same period last year. Domestic and regional routes saw falls in passengers carried, while international routes notched a 6% increase year-on-year.
Overall passenger load factor fell 5.4 percentage points to 75.4%, due in part to rising ASKs. The SkyTeam carrier saw the sharpest decline in its regional network, with a 12.8% drop to 69.1%.
China Southern carried 11.4 million passengers for the period, 4.6% lower than the same month last year. Regional routes saw a dramatic 36% fall year-on-year in passengers carried.
ASKs for the carrier’s overall network rose a marginal 2.3%, offset by drops in its domestic and regional network.
Overall passenger load factor for the month slid 3.7% year-on-year to 76.7%.
The three carriers did not offer much by way of analysis about how the outbreak will affect the business. China Eastern states that the airline has “suspended or adjusted the operation of certain routes and flights” in light of the outbreak, which has led to a “change of market demand and operating environment”.
China Southern echoed similar sentiments, adding that it would work to recover frequency “as appropriate”. Air China did not discuss the matter.
The latest traffic figures comes as ICAO’s preliminary estimates indicate a $4-5 billion revenue loss from the global airline industry because of the virus outbreak.
Some airlines, including the Lufthansa group and American Airlines, have cancelled all flights into the Mainland China following the outbreak, while scores of other carriers have reduced services.
Chinese carriers too have cut flights domestically and internationally, as the outbreak continues to spread, and in response to travel restrictions imposed around the world.