February 29, 2024

Flights between China and Middle East almost back to pre-Covid levels: Nomura

BEIJING — Fewer than 6% of U.S. flights to and from mainland China that existed in 2019 have resumed, according to a Nomura report.

In contrast, flights between mainland China and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Italy are nearly back to pre-pandemic frequency or more, the report showed, citing data as of May 22 from Variflight.

“We think geopolitical factors in China’s outbound tourism revival … are clearly at play here,” Nomura’s Chief China Economist Ting Lu and a team said in the report Monday.

In March, China brokered the restoration of diplomatic ties between Middle East rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, while calling for peace talks.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have meanwhile simmered. China’s ambassador to the U.S. assumed office last week after a gap of about six months with no one in the position.

This past weekend, an Air China flight between Beijing and New York marked the first direct passenger on the route by a Chinese carrier in months. It was one of the four new weekly flights between the two countries by Chinese airlines that the U.S. Department of Transportation approved in May.

Previously, the only regular direct flights by Chinese carriers between mainland China and New York since the pandemic were from Shanghai and Guangzhou. The cross-border non-stop flights also cover Los Angeles.

Flights of Air China are parked on the tarmac of Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, March 28, 2016.

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In March, Delta announced it resumed direct flights between the U.S. and China — from Shanghai to Seattle and Detroit.

Overall, mainland China’s international flights remains below 40% of 2019 levels, the Nomura report said.

The analysts expect that level to pick up to 70% by the end of the year as international flights recover around the summer holiday season.

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