Airlines are continuing to suspend international capacity to mainland China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak – but the significance of such decisions to each carrier’s network varies wildly.

For Chinese carriers, the reduction in services is being keenly felt.

But despite the country’s rapid economic growth in recent years, China’s international long-haul connectivity from foreign operators has expanded modestly, tending to focus on large cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

Many overseas operators – notably from Europe – have struggled to expand beyond those cities, often citing insufficient feeder services into the country’s secondary airports.

Other factors, such as strained geopolitical relations, have also weighed on the appetite for more connectivity from North America’s operators, for example.

Cirium schedules data for December 2019 – the month before the virus that originated in Wuhan began to disrupt air services – shows that there are exceptions, however, particularly from territories and countries that put single-aisle jets within easy reach of the mainland.

Some, predictably, are airlines based in China’s non-mainland territories: Hong Kong-based Cathay Dragon – the low-cost arm of Cathay Pacific – and Macau-based Air Macau both deployed more than half of their seats on services to and from the mainland in December.

Select non-mainland-China airlines: flights to and from Mainland China, and their proportion of carrier’s total services, December 2019
Airline Territory Flights Seats ASKs Flights Seats ASKs
Air Macau Macau 1,484 243,994 322,792,359 56.9% 56.7% 54.0%
Cathay Dragon Hong Kong 2,697 621,138 695,935,153 56.1% 55.1% 44.2%
Hong Kong Airlines Hong Kong 1,143 238,341 306,916,336 40.4% 35.0% 21.9%
EVA Air Taiwan 616 157,184 164,574,041 11.4% 10.6% 3.0%
China Airlines Taiwan 608 177,628 173,328,808 11.0% 11.7% 3.9%
Uni Air Taiwan 396 80,162 72,375,567 9.3% 21.7% 44.8%
Source: Cirium schedules data. Notes: Data for both directions; marketed flights

Elsewhere in the region, operators in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand also have a relatively high exposure to the mainland China market.

From Thailand, 45% of flights and seats, and 40% of available seat kilometres (ASKs), operated by NokScoot were on mainland China services in December, Cirium data shows, although the low-cost carrier accounted for fewer than 200 flights in the month.

Fellow low-cost operator Thai Lion Air meanwhile deployed around 23% of its flights – some 1,328 – and 25% of its seats on mainland China services. Those flights accounted for 44% of its ASKs.

Thai AirAsia saw 13% of its flights – more than 1,500 – and same proportion of its seats operating on mainland China routes in December, accounting for 26% of its ASKs.

Thanks to its long-haul focus, Thai flag carrier Thai Airways is less exposed to the market, but still deployed 9% of flights – nearly 600 – and the same proportion of seats on mainland China routes.

Select Asia-Pacific airlines: flights to and from Mainland China, and their proportion of carrier’s total services, December 2019
Airline Country Flights Seats ASKs Flights Seats ASKs
NokScoot Thailand 196 81,340 255,964,152 45.1% 45.1% 40.0%
AirAsia X Malaysia 477 179,829 656,584,374 23.5% 23.5% 20.2%
Thai Lion Air Thailand 1,328 291,127 756,365,418 23.1% 24.5% 43.8%
Asiana Airlines South Korea 1,767 388,463 408,100,342 21.2% 19.3% 8.3%
Scoot Singapore 907 240,757 872,667,148 17.4% 20.0% 26.3%
Air Busan South Korea 317 61,553 99,565,205 17.1% 16.9% 14.7%
Korean Air South Korea 1,796 413,239 425,081,523 14.9% 15.0% 5.0%
Thai AirAsia Thailand 1,522 273,960 552,215,721 13.1% 13.1% 26.0%
SilkAir Singapore 318 51,084 150,236,286 9.5% 9.8% 16.5%
Thai Airways Thailand 594 191,974 488,976,291 9.2% 9.1% 6.6%
Jeju Air South Korea 516 97,524 81,043,210 7.4% 7.5% 4.3%
Nok Air Thailand 360 68,040 159,657,351 6.6% 8.1% 26.6%
Vietnam Airlines Vietnam 812 164,522 320,768,917 6.4% 6.8% 8.2%
Singapore Airlines Singapore 496 159,546 618,926,629 6.3% 6.7% 5.4%
AirAsia Malaysia 1,161 208,980 522,905,705 5.8% 5.8% 13.6%
Jetstar Pacific Vietnam 191 34,380 56,100,091 5.8% 5.8% 11.8%
Jetstar Asia Singapore 138 24,840 73,097,177 5.1% 5.1% 9.8%
Cathay Pacific Hong Kong 338 91,268 146,114,937 4.1% 3.5% 1.2%
Philippines AirAsia Philippines 214 38,520 63,137,623 4.0% 4.0% 6.7%
ANA Japan 1,461 282,664 545,870,294 3.8% 3.8% 5.0%
Japan Airlines Japan 868 170,218 318,860,438 3.4% 3.6% 4.2%
Cebu Pacific Philippines 312 85,438 149,751,816 3.1% 3.9% 5.8%
Philippine Airlines Philippines 314 70,237 117,430,436 3.0% 3.7% 2.3%
Malindo Air Malaysia 212 34,344 104,116,549 3.0% 3.9% 7.8%
Lion Airlines Indonesia 488 107,360 407,814,434 2.6% 2.8% 10.2%
Malaysia Airlines Malaysia 318 82,642 290,647,717 2.5% 4.3% 6.8%
Qantas Australia 106 27,894 230,705,418 0.5% 0.8% 2.6%
Air New Zealand New Zealand 62 18,724 175,014,538 0.4% 1.0% 3.9%
Air India India 44 11,264 48,418,955 0.3% 0.4% 0.8%
Indigo India 124 22,320 57,490,853 0.3% 0.3% 0.6%
Source: Cirium schedules data. Notes: Data for both directions; marketed flights

From Malaysia, long-haul low-cost operator AirAsia X deployed 24% of flights – some 477 – and seats into mainland China, accounting for around 20% of its ASKs, Cirium data shows.

In terms of total flights to mainland China, AirAsia ranks highly among its peers at 1,161, or 6% of its total services during the month.

In Singapore, low-cost carrier Scoot deployed some 17% of its flights and 20% of its seats on mainland China services in December. Scoot’s ASK figure is higher at 26%. Regional operator SilkAir was meanwhile at around 10% for both measures and 16% for ASKs. Flag carrier Singapore Airlines was at 6% of flights, 7% of seats and 5% of ASKs.

In South Korea, Asiana and Korean Air both have a significant presence on China routes. For Asiana, they accounted for 21% of flights and 19% of seats in December. In terms of ASKs, the figures drops to 8%, reflecting South Korea’s close proximity to several of mainland China’s major cities.

Korean Air is slightly less exposed to the China market than its full-service rival. Cirium data shows 15% of its flights and seats were deployed on services to the mainland in December. In terms of ASKs, the figure was just 5%.

Asiana and Korean Air lead in the region in terms of total flights to and from the mainland, however, operating nearly 1,800 each in December.

South Korea’s burgeoning low-cost carriers – such as Air Busan and Jeju Air – also have a relatively high exposure to China’s mainland market.

Japanese carrier ANA offered nearly 1,500 flights to the mainland in December, but they only accounted for 4% of those in its whole network. 

From Africa, meanwhile, 13% of Ethiopian Airlines’ ASKs were on mainland China services in December, Cirium data shows, reflecting the operator’s strong focus on increasing such connectivity in recent years. They only account for 2% of its flights and 5% of its seats, however.

Egyptair similarly deployed a significant proportion of its capacity in ASKs to mainland China in December, at 11%. 

Select Middle East/Africa airlines: flights to and from Mainland China, and their proportion of carrier’s total services, December 2019
Airline Country Flights Seats ASKs Flights Seats ASKs
Etihad Airways UAE 214 70,670 339,921,312 2.8% 3.7% 3.8%
Ethiopian Airlines Ethiopia 248 83,560 686,513,181 2.4% 4.7% 12.8%
Emirates UAE 310 148,920 907,482,624 1.9% 2.2% 2.7%
Qatar Airways Qatar 273 106,566 665,392,472 1.7% 2.5% 3.3%
RwandAir Rwanda 26 6,344 26,718,728 1.6% 3.4% 7.2%
Egyptair Egypt 104 35,392 280,358,730 1.5% 3.2% 10.9%
Kenya Airways Kenya 62 14,508 24,328,994 1.3% 2.5% 1.7%
El Al Israel 17 4,497 32,191,155 0.7% 0.9% 1.4%
Saudia Saudi Arabia 62 18,476 130,763,513 0.3% 0.5% 1.5%
Source: Cirium schedules data. Notes: Data for both directions; marketed flights

Middle Eastern operators Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are in the low single digits for all three measures. Emirates operated the most flights in December, at 310, versus Etihad’s 214 and Qatar Airways’ 273.

Among North American carriers, mainland China services barely registered in their huge networks in terms of flights and seats in December. In ASK terms, such services are more significant, accounting for 6% at Air Canada, 5% at United Airlines, 3% at Delta Air Lines and 2% at American Airlines.

Select Americas airlines: flights to and from Mainland China, and their proportion of carrier’s total services, December 2019
Airline Country Flights Seats ASKs Flights Seats ASKs
Air Canada Canada 290 86,532 879,494,255 0.6% 1.6% 6.0%
United Airlines USA 584 156,222 1,668,787,338 0.4% 0.9% 4.3%
Delta Air Lines USA 330 92,886 982,029,386 0.2% 0.5% 2.8%
American Airlines USA 236 61,293 669,606,814 0.1% 0.3% 1.7%
Aeromexico Mexico 13 3,159 37,480,206 0.1% 0.1% 0.8%
Source: Cirium schedules data. Notes: Data for both directions; marketed flights

At nearly 600 flights, United is significantly ahead of its peers by that measure. 

In Europe, Russia’s NordStar Airlines saw mainland China services account for 28% of its ASKs in December, Cirium data shows, with flights at 11% and seats at 15%. Its base in northern Siberia means swathes of China are closer to its main hub than most of Europe.

Finnair’s Asia-Pacific-focused strategy, meanwhile, means some 9% of its ASKs were on mainland China services – but this equates to just 2% of flights and 3% of seats.

Select Europe/Central Asia airlines: flights to and from Mainland China, and their proportion of carrier’s total services, December 2019
Airline Country Flights Seats ASKs Flights Seats ASKs
NordStar Airlines Russia 107 18,297 73,769,804 10.6% 14.8% 27.5%
Ural Airlines Russia 165 26,823 88,935,802 3.5% 3.5% 5.3%
Virgin Atlantic UK 62 15,996 148,151,349 3.1% 2.7% 3.6%
Air Astana Kazakhstan 128 18,489 49,195,099 3.0% 2.8% 4.2%
Finnair Finland 173 51,685 356,600,851 1.6% 3.2% 9.0%
Aeroflot Russia 353 116,070 725,821,965 1.2% 2.4% 6.2%
KLM Netherlands 220 70,062 598,895,729 1.1% 2.1% 5.9%
Swiss Switzerland 90 20,601 178,258,971 0.8% 1.0% 4.3%
Austrian Austria 71 18,039 145,041,826 0.7% 1.3% 7.1%
Lufthansa Germany 250 75,669 633,498,270 0.6% 1.1% 4.3%
Air France France 205 71,536 638,221,209 0.6% 1.4% 4.3%
Turkish Airlines Turkey 188 65,294 500,926,623 0.5% 0.9% 3.3%
British Airways UK 133 31,449 278,188,506 0.5% 0.6% 1.8%
Iberia Spain 25 7,200 74,089,048 0.2% 0.3% 1.2%
Source: Cirium schedules data. Notes: Data for both directions; marketed flights

Among most other carriers in the region, mainland China services accounted for a small proportion of their overall flights and seats; the distance between Western Europe and China means ASK proportions were slightly higher. 

Russia’s Aeroflot – whose network is based closer to mainland China – was the biggest operator in terms of total flights.