Special: The battle against the new coronavirus
China’s aviation regulator has decided to ease rules on the suspension of overseas flights due to COVID-19, a move many believe will boost domestic travel.
Starting Sunday, any flight with five detected cases of COVID-19 will be grounded for one week when confirmed cases make up four percent of all those on board and for two weeks when confirmed cases make up eight percent, the Aviation Administration Civil of China (CAAC) said on Sunday.
The rule does not mention policy settings for flights with fewer than five confirmed cases.
“The move aims to promote Chinese and foreign travel exchanges and aims to scientifically and accurately do a better job in epidemic prevention and control,” CAAC said.
CAAC said that the relevant policies will be adapted in due course according to the requirements for epidemic prevention.
Previously, flights with more than five but fewer than 10 confirmed COVID-19 passengers were suspended for two weeks. For flights with 10 passengers infected with COVID-19, airlines must suspend their operations for four weeks, according to rules in force from May 1, 2021.
Market watchers said domestic travel requirements are set to ease.
For example, a Boeing 777, which can carry 305 to 440 people, is allowed to carry 228 to 330 passengers under the 75 percent capacity requirement set by the CAAC, so when the number of infected individuals is 4 percent of those on board, the flight will be suspended for a week, a significant relief from the previous request, Wang Yi, a manager in charge of airline ticket data at industry information provider VariFlight, told the Global Times on Sunday.
“In the past, the rule attached great importance to the number of confirmed cases when it reached five, but now it doesn’t,” Wang noted.
The new rules have halved the suspension period, which will help with the resumption of international flights to China, especially long-haul intercontinental flights from Europe and the US with wide-body aircraft, said Lin Zhijie, an independent observer of the market. Global Times on Sunday.
VariFlight data showed that the average usage rate of wide-body aircraft in July this year was 1.16 hours per day, compared to 10-11 hours in 2019.
In 2020, China adopted the “Five One” policy to curb imported cases, which allowed Chinese carriers to operate only one outbound flight per week on one route to each country, and foreign airlines to operate only one flight per week in China.
The country has suspended 768 international flights so far this year to curb the transmission of the virus, Kong Fanwei, an official with the CAAC, said at a press conference on May 23 this year.
But the policy has slowly changed and the regulator is now allowing more airlines from home and abroad to resume international flight services.
CAAC said in June that it has been negotiating with several countries to gradually increase their regular international passenger flights to meet the needs of personnel exchanges.
In July, officials from the CAAC said China will improve communications with countries to increase the number of international flights during the second half of this year.
Meanwhile, the country also halved the collective quarantine time for international arrivals to seven days from the previous 14 days, giving a fresh boost to the outbound travel market.
International passenger flights from China are likely to grow more than 200 percent month-on-month in August, VariFlight data showed, and flights to the US in particular are expected to grow fourfold.