China's aviation regulator has decided to relax rules on suspending overseas flights due to COVID-19 in a move many believe will stimulate inbound travel.
Starting from Sunday, any flight with five detected COVID-19 cases will be suspended for one week when the confirmed cases account for four percent of all those onboard, and for two weeks when the confirmed cases account for eight percent, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Sunday.
The rule does not mention policy settings for flights with less than five confirmed cases.
"The move aims to promote Chinese and foreign travel exchanges, and aims to scientifically and accurately do a better job in epidemic prevention and control," the CAAC said.
CAAC said the relevant policies will be adjusted in a timely manner according to epidemic prevention requirements.
Previously, flights with more than five but fewer than 10 confirmed COVID-19 passengers were suspended for two weeks. For flights with 10 passengers infected with COVID-19, airlines must suspend their operation for four weeks, according to rules in place since May 1 of 2021.
Market watchers said the requirements for inbound travel are set to be loosened.
For example, a Boeing 777, which can carry 305 to 440 people, is allowed to carry 228 to 330 passengers according to the 75 percent capacity requirement set by CAAC, so when the number of infected individuals is 4 percent of those onboard, the flight will be suspended for one week, a significant loosening of the previous requirement, Wang Yi, a manager responsible for air ticket data from industry information provider VariFlight, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"In the past, the rule attached great importance to the number of confirmed cases when it reached five, but now it doesn't," Wang noted.
The new rules have cut the suspension period in half, which will help with the resumption of international flights to China, especially for long-haul intercontinental flights from Europe and the US with wide-body aircraft, Lin Zhijie, an independent market watcher, told the Global Times on Sunday.
VariFlight data showed that the average utilization rate of wide-body aircraft in July this year was 1.16 hours per day, compared with 10-11 hours in 2019.
In 2020, China adopted "Five One" policy to curb imported cases, which allowed Chinese carriers to carry out only one outbound flight per week on one route to any country, and foreign airlines to operate just one flight a week into China.
The country has suspended 768 international flights so far this year to contain the transmission of the virus, Kong Fanwei, an official with the CAAC, told a press conference on May 23 of this year.
But the policy has slowly been tweaked and the regulator is now allowing more airlines from home and abroad to resume international flight services.
The CAAC said in June that it has been negotiating with some countries to gradually increase their regular international passenger flights to meet personnel exchange needs.
In July, officials from the CAAC said that China will enhance communications with countries to increase the number of international flights during the second half of this year.
Meanwhile, the country also halved the collective quarantine time for international arrivals to seven days from the previous 14 days, providing new impetus for the outbound travel market.
Outbound international passenger flights from China are likely to grow by more than 200 percent month-on-month in August, VariFlight data showed, and flights to the US in particular are predicted to grow fourfold.