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Big Three Chinese Airlines Report First Half 2023 Losses

An Air China 737 MAX 8 (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

On August 30, the big three airlines, Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern released their results in the first half of 2023 (1H23). Overall, the carriers still recorded negative profits, but the amount of loss has been significantly reduced versus the same period last year, benefiting from the release of COVID-19 control measures in China. However, the recovery of international and regional transportation are behind domestic transport, and all of them called out macroeconomic risks in uncertain demand, high exchange rates, increasing oil price, and more.

Air China

In 1H23, Air China recorded a loss attributed to shareholders at ¥3.45Bn ($480 million). The loss was significantly reduced compared to the 1H22 loss at ¥19.43Bn ($$2.78Bn, 2022 exchange rates). The available seat kilometers (ASK) increased by 160% compared to 1H22, among which international ASK was 9x of 1H22 performance, amid China’s release in border controls. On the other hand, cargo performance was down 15%.

During 1H23, Air China acquired controlling interests in Shandong Airlines, a regional airline based in Shandong, China that mainly operates Boeing 737 series jets. The acquisition made Air China Group the largest airline in Asia in terms of fleet size, with 902 jets operated by Air China and its subsidiaries.

An Air China 747-8i at San Francisco International Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

China Eastern

China Eastern also achieved similar results to Air China, with significant loss reduction and increases in performance. Compared to 1H22 ¥18.74Bn ($2.68Bn, 2022 exchange rates), China Eastern recorded a ¥6.25Bn ($870 million) loss in 1H23. The significant loss reduction benefited from the 144% increase in available seat kilometers (ASK) and 189% increase in revenue passenger kilometers (RPK).

China Eastern’s first C919 (Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

China Southern

China Southern has the most minimal loss among the big three, as it is the main carrier of the Greater Bay Area of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau, which is one of the most vibrant areas economically.

In 1H23, China Southern recorded a ¥2.88Bn ($400 million) loss, which is a 75% reduction compared to 1H22 at ¥11.49Bn ($1.64Bn, 2022 exchange rates). The airline saw a doubling growth in both available seat kilometers (ASK) and revenue passenger kilometers (RPK), similar to Air China and China Eastern, and the carrier is maintaining it positive outlook for future developments.

A China Southern 737 MAX heads to storage in Everett, Wash. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

Overall, all three airlines have seen significant performance improvements in 1H23 compared to the same period last year. Even though they still recorded a negative balance on financial results, the trend is clearly going in the correct direction. With a strong summer season under their belt, the market is positive some carriers may turn a profit by the end of 2023.

New Jet Plans

The receiving plan of Air China and China Eastern reveals interesting leads regarding future orders to Boeing and Airbus in the coming years. In the report, Air China laid out its new aircraft receiving plans until 2025. Besides the previously planned Airbus A320neo series jets, Air China Group reactivated their plans to receive Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft. Additionally, five Boeing 787s are planned to be delivered to Air China in 2025. This Boeing 787 delivery has not been in any announced orders from Air China.

Similar to Air China, China Eastern also laid out 787 receive plans in coming years. A total of 11 Boeing 787s will be delivered to China Eastern in 2024 and 2025. Those Boeing 787 orders are the first commercial jet orders from mainland China since 2017. However, the total number of new widebody jets orders is still unknown, nor is the type and configuration of those new jets.

Lei Yan

Author

  • Lei Yan

    Lei is from Inner Mongolia, China, and now lives in Guangzhou. He grew up in an aviation family, where his passion began. During his time at Penn State University, he studied Industrial Engineering specializing in operations research, and he graduated with an honor’s thesis on airport gate assignment optimization. Now, he is a Purchasing Manager with Procter & Gamble. In his free time, he enjoys flying, reading, and wandering around the city.

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