Caixin
Jun 25, 2020 01:21 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

China Starts Reconnecting to the World by Air as Pandemic Eases

Passanger airplane flying above clouds in evening.
Passanger airplane flying above clouds in evening.

Travelers in Europe and New Zealand will find more China options as airlines resume scheduled service after Chinese regulators relaxed strict, months-long restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the largest German airline, Wednesday operated its first scheduled passenger flight since January after obtaining approval from Chinese regulators to resume services. The weekly flight took off from Frankfurt Wednesday afternoon to land at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai Thursday noon local time. A return flight will depart from Shanghai the next day.

Lufthansa is among four European airlines approved to resume passenger services to China over the past week. Earlier, Air France resumed its weekly service between Paris and Shanghai. Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways won clearance to fly weekly between London and Shanghai starting Aug. 4. Russian Airlines, or Aeroflot, was also approved to resume services in China, although the carrier hasn’t released a schedule.

Air New Zealand restarted weekly passenger services linking Auckland and Shanghai. American carriers Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Inc. also received approval to resume flights to China.

The service resumptions followed months of suspension after the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in late March slashed the weekly number of international flights by 90%. Dubbed the Phase-Five policy, the rules limited airlines to one international flight a week between China and any other country and froze the number of flights that any airline could operate into China at the level of service as of March 12, effectively barring airlines that halted services before that date from resuming flights to China.

Lufthansa and other airlines controlled by the parent Lufthansa Group, including Swissair AG and Austrian Airlines AG, suspended flights to China Jan. 30 as the Covid-19 outbreak intensified. Before that, Lufthansa operated three flights to China every day.

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As the outbreak wanes, international airlines have sought to resume services to China, but the CAAC said in May that the restrictive measures would be maintained because of concerns about the rampant spread of the virus abroad.

This ignited a series of tit-for-tat policy exchanges between Beijing and Washington on flight services between the two countries. American airlines were unable to resume China services as they suspended flights in February, while Chinese carriers fly only four flights each week to the U.S. during the pandemic.

The tension eased in early June after the CAAC backed down by allowing more foreign airlines to resume limited services. It also set up an incentive mechanism that leaves the door open for airlines to add more flights if their virus control measures prove sufficient.

Under the CAAC rules, foreign airlines must choose from a list of 37 cities as destinations. All the recently added flights have been approved to land in Shanghai, the financial hub, while the capital city Beijing has largely remained closed to international arrivals.

Caixin reported earlier that U.S. carriers United Airlines and Delta were cleared to operate two flights a week. Delta is set to resume the service Thursday, Caixin learned. United Airlines hasn’t released its flight plan.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com) and editor Bob Simison (bobsimison@caixin.com)


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