Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023

By TravelWiseJan 2, 2024 23:15 PMNews
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Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023
Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023. Source: Freepik

As the new year approaches, it's time to take a look at the most interesting aviation figures of 2023. One of the most intriguing questions is which routes have been the busiest over the past 12 months.

According to OAG's Global Airline Schedules Data, the busiest route in the world this year is Kuala Lumpur (KUL) - Singapore Changi (SIN), with 4.9 million seats on offer. In China, for the third year in a row, it is Beijing (PEK) - Shanghai Hongqiao with 8.3 million seats offered," writes Simple Flying.

In addition to Beijing (PEK) - Shenzhen (SZX) and Beijing (PEK) - Shanghai (SHA), the other three busiest domestic routes in China returned to the level of 2019 in terms of the number of seats.

The US and China represent the world's largest aviation markets. The relevance of air travel demand in the latter is an interesting phenomenon to monitor, as it signals a broader industry trend - the increasing importance of the Asia-Pacific region in the global aviation industry. Therefore, it will be interesting to examine the five busiest domestic routes in China in 2023, comparing data such as capacity, airline operators, and aircraft with last year and 2019.

5. Guangzhou (CAN) - Hangzhou (HGH)

4,662,975 seats in 2023

Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023
Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023. Source: GCMaps, simpleflying.com

This year, China's fifth busiest domestic route runs between Guangzhou and Hangzhou, two airports in the country's southwestern region.

By the end of 2023, passenger traffic between these two cities will reach 4,662,975 seats. According to Cirium, in December 2023, 11 airlines are flying on this route. They will deploy 196,766 seats between Guangzhou and Hangzhou in December alone. In terms of passenger capacity share, China Southern ranks first, followed by Air China and Hainan Airlines.

Compared to December 2019, the total number of seats on this route increased by 20.9%, and the number of flights increased by 65. Compared to December 2022, the Guangzhou-Hangzhou route also saw an increase in capacity: 23% more seats and 261 more flights (987). In terms of aircraft deployed, the Boeing 737 in all its various variants is the most used aircraft on this route, followed by the Airbus A320 and Airbus A330 (in all its variants).

4. Beijing (PEK) - Shenzhen (SZX)

5,273,976 seats in 2023

Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023
Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023. Source: GCMaps, simpleflying.com

China's fourth-largest domestic route in 2023 will run between the Chinese capital Beijing and Shenzhen, in the southern province of Guangdong.

In 2023, the passenger traffic between these two cities will amount to 5,273,976 seats. Although this route is busier than the fifth largest, fewer airlines are flying between Beijing and Shenzhen this month: Air China (CA) - 131,391 seats, Hainan Airlines (HU) - 58,409 seats, Shenzhen Airlines (ZH) - 37,805 seats.

These three airlines will offer a total of 227,605 seats in December this year. In terms of capacity, Air China is the largest operator on this route, followed by Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines. Compared to 2019, there have been some interesting changes in the air transportation market between Beijing and Shenzhen. First, three Chinese carriers have abandoned this route: China Southern (CZ), Xiamen Airlines (MF), and China Eastern Airlines (MU).

In December 2019, these three carriers offered a total of 96,371 seats and operated 340 flights. The withdrawal of three Chinese carriers from the PEK-SZX route has affected its recovery from the pandemic to the extent that capacity on the Beijing-Shenzhen route has not yet reached 2019 levels, as shown in the chart below.

China Southern's withdrawal from this route in 2023 means that the A380 will no longer operate between Beijing and Shenzhen. Indeed, in December 2019, the carrier used the sky giant 27 times on the route with a total capacity of 13,608 seats. A great consolation in connection with the loss of the A380 is that Air China operates Boeing 747-400 aircraft on this route. This month, the carrier will operate 25 flights between the two cities on the Queen of the Skies, which has a capacity of 8,600 seats.

The graph below shows that in December 2023, the Boeing 737 will be the most frequently operated aircraft on the PEK-SZX route, followed by the Airbus A320 and Boeing 777, indicating the predominance of narrow-body aircraft on flights between these two Chinese cities.

 

3. Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) - Shenzhen (SZX)

6,969,789 seats in 2023

Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023
Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023. Source: GCMaps, simpleflying.com

China's third busiest domestic route runs between Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA), on the country's east coast, and Shenzhen (SZX), near Hong Kong.

In 2023, the total passenger capacity of the two cities will be 6,969,789 seats. According to Cirium, the route will be served by seven carriers, which in December offered a total of 306,843 seats.

The capacity between Shanghai and Shenzhen not only returned to the level of 2019, but exceeded it. Indeed, compared to December 2019, this month's capacity was up 7% and the number of scheduled flights increased by 46 (1,348). Compared to December 2022, this route has also seen an increase in capacity. With 108 new flights, airlines offered 13% more seats between Shanghai and Shenzhen this month compared to the same period last year. In terms of aircraft in service, Airbus is leading the way on this route: The Airbus A330 and Airbus A320 were the most frequently used aircraft between Shanghai Hongqiao and Shenzhen in December 2023.

2. Guangzhou (PRC) - Shanghai Hongqiao (China)

7 162 999 seats in 2023

Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023
Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023. Source: GCMaps, simpleflying.com

This year, the second busiest route in China runs between Guangzhou (CAN) and Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA).

In 2023, 7,162,999 seats were offered on this route. In December this year, 7 carriers will provide direct service between Guangzhou and Shanghai Hongqiao.

The most significant change compared to December 2022 and 2019 is the absence of Chengdu Airlines (EU) from the list of carriers serving the Guangzhou - Shanghai Hongqiao route. Despite the fact that one airline has ceased operations, this month's capacity on the Guangzhou - Shanghai Hongqiao route increased by 3.7% compared to the same period in 2019.

Compared to December 2022, the increase in capacity is even more impressive: 47% more seats were offered this month. This route mainly uses narrow-body aircraft, and the Airbus A320 was the most popular aircraft type between Guangzhou and Shanghai Hongqiao this December.

Beijing (PEK) - Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA)

8,355,225 seats in 2023

Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023
Recovery from the pandemic: China's 5 busiest domestic air routes in 2023. Source: GCMaps, simpleflying.com

For the third year in a row, with more than eight million passengers, Beijing (PEK) - Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) is China's busiest route.

This month, only three airlines serve China's busiest domestic route:

Air China (CA) with 140,919 seats, Hainan Airlines (HU) with 36,689 seats, and China Eastern Airlines (MU) with 168,119 seats.

Together, these carriers offer 345,727 seats this month. Although the Beijing-Shanghai Hongqiao route is the busiest in the country, it has not yet fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, December passenger capacity is still 5.2% lower than in the same month in 2019. The main reason for this gap is that two airlines - China Southern (CZ) and Shanghai Airlines (FM) - withdrew from serving this route after 2019 and have not yet returned.

In terms of aircraft, the busiest routes in China are served mainly by wide-body aircraft. The Boeing 777 accounts for almost 33% of all flights scheduled for this month, and the Airbus A330 accounts for 29% of December flights between Beijing and Shanghai Hongqiao Airport.

An interesting conclusion from the analysis of China's busiest domestic routes is that most of them have seen capacity increase from 3% to 31% - a strong indication that China is moving towards recovery in the post-pandemic era.

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