China’s civil aviation regulator on Thursday moved to loosen international flight restrictions by allowing all qualified foreign airlines to resume services to China from Monday, aiming to boost international travel essential to a faster economic recovery while continuing efforts to stem the arrival of imported coronavirus cases.
From Monday, foreign airlines not listed in the fifth flight arrangement released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in March can fly one international passenger flight to one Chinese city each week, the CAAC said in a statement on Thursday.
That means airlines from many countries including Australia, Canada, the US and Japan will be able to operate flights to China.
Zheng Hongfeng, CEO of industry information provider VariFlight, told the Global Times on Thursday that the new policy is “a very positive sign” showing China is gradually resuming international flights in a safe and flexible manner based on market demand as the pandemic ebbs and domestic preventive measures improve.
“The Chinese government has always paid attention to overseas Chinese. The new rule shows China is making efforts to bring them home,” Zheng said.
The regulator also said it will implement a reward and punishment mechanism for all airlines. Carriers that for three consecutive weeks do not carry any passengers on flights to China who test positive for the coronavirus will be allowed to open one more flight to China each week.
However, if a carrier’s number of passengers on China flights who test positive for the coronavirus reaches five, that airline’s flights to China will be suspended for one week. If the number reaches 10, operations will be suspended for four weeks.
Yu Zhanfu, global partner of Roland Berger’s strategy consultancy, told the Global Times that the new announcement is a signal the “Five-One” policy has been relaxed substantially.
Qi Qi, an independent market analyst told the Global Times that the reward and punishment mechanism is targeted and will give airlines an incentive to prioritize virus control over economic gains when flying to China.
“But taking into account China’s border control measures, the overall flight number is still within control,” Yu said. He noted that the once the physical channel between China and foreign countries is opened, it will pave way for more stable aviation policy in the future.
The COVID-19 outbreak has come under control in China, and the country’s economic and social activities reported fast recovery in May. Even Central China’s Hubei Province reported a business resumption rate of 91.76 percent on May 31, up 11.17 percentage points month-on-month.
The CAAC’s announcement came just after the US Department of Transportation said on Wednesday that it was suspending scheduled commercial passenger operations of all Chinese carriers to and from the US starting June 16. The move was in response to China’s “failure” to allow US carriers to resume flights to and from China, the statement said.
The move, which targeted seven Chinese airlines including Air China, Beijing Capital Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines, would cut off all air services between the world’s two largest economies and further exacerbate already escalating bilateral tensions.
Qi said the new policy is not a response to the US’ suspension of commercial flights operated by Chinese carriers.
“It is based on China’s own pace and involves all airlines, regardless of whether they’re Chinese carriers or foreign carriers. This is in stark contrast to the US move, which targeted China out of political consideration,” Qi noted.