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Chinese Aviation Market Cools Down After Record-Breaking Holiday

While holiday travel demand was high, it did not last long.

Air China and Shenzhen Airlines aircrafts in Guangzhou’s Baiyun Airport (Photo: Lei Yan)

During the first week of October, China entered into an eight-day National Day Holiday. This holiday was the longest public holiday in China during 2023. Many Chinese people travel during this holiday, and they have experienced the busiest national day holiday ever in this country. However, the traffic quickly dialed down after the holiday.

For air travel, over 15 million passengers traveled by air during the holiday season. The average fares for economy class climbed to RMB 1,095 ($150), a 45% increase compared to the 2022 national holiday, and a 15% increase versus the average price during the 2019 pre-pandemic national day holiday. The statistics demonstrate that, despite the recent sluggish economic performance of China, people in the country were still willing to spend.

All sectors of the transportation industry were striving during the Chinese National Day holiday. On the rail side, nearly 200 million passengers were transported during the 8-day holiday, equivalent to more than half of the population in the United States. China has the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, constituting more than 60% of the world’s total high-speed rail in milage.

A China Southern 737MAX being towed while in storage at Paine Field.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

During the holiday, the new trend reveals reasons that drive the market to modesty. Short-range and mid-range travels take the highest portion among all travels, and previously atypical destinations, such as a handful of small cities and townships, have seen significant growth in tourist traffic, due to their relatively low price compared to hit tourist destinations. Adding a layer of data that suggests residents’ saving has also seen a record-high increase in 2023, those phenomena demonstrate that the public was still price-sensitive, and unwilling to indulge in unessential spending.

A Swift Decrease

After the holiday, many airports saw their traffic decrease quickly. Take Urumqi, China as an example. The airport has seen its busiest year ever in 2023, surpassing 20 million throughput 11 days earlier than in 2019. The airport processes over 560 lights a day during the summer season with only one runway, and most of them are wide-body jets carrying tourists from all around China. After the national day holiday, the daily flights dropped over 10% to around 500 flights per day. Furthermore, most of the widebody jets are pulled out of Urumqi to more profitable business routes such as flights between Beijing and Shanghai. Such a situation has been seen across the nation’s airports, and the flight reduction is expected after the spring-summer schedule ends on October 29.

Expanding the horizon to the end of 2023, the aviation market in China is expected to recover to 70% to 80% of 2019 level. In some regions of the country, the recovery may be more expeditious than in others. There is still a long way to go for the country’s aviation market to fully retain the momentum of growth it had back in 2019.

Lei Yan


  • 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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