China’s Outbound Love Story

As World Routes heads to Chengdu in September, OAG takes a timely look at where China’s international capacity is headed.

Historically the Chinese domestic market has dwarfed international services but the balance is shifting. In 2016, for the first time, international capacity to and from China is growing at a faster rate than domestic capacity, with carriers adding 19m extra seats, compared to 13m extra domestic seats.

With carriers now operating over 1,000 airport pairs, the arrival of new generation, more efficient aircraft has allowed secondary Chinese cities to secure international services. Whilst Asia still represents the biggest market for China’s international flows, other parts of the world have seen considerable growth in new routes and capacity, particularly between China and the Southwest Pacific and North America. In both these markets it’s evident that Chinese carriers are ‘punching above their weight’ by operating more than 50% of capacity.

To some extent this is being driven by the Chinese government’s one airline, one route policy driving Chinese carriers to claim routes as theirs. Given the strength of market demand, this is not necessarily a problem.

Our analysis also shows that there are still markets which offer considerable potential such as China-Africa, where there is a considerable indirect market. There are still many cities in China with large populations that as yet have no international air services. We also explore the development of China’s four largest carriers and consider what might be next for them.

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