Passengers get ready to board China Southern Airlines' first flight from Beijing Daxing International Airport to London's Heathrow Airport on Wednesday. (TAO RAN/FOR CHINA DAILY)
China Southern Airlines launched its first flight from Beijing Daxing International Airport to London's Heathrow Airport on Wednesday, amid a resumption in international air travel following China's optimization of COVID-19 response measures and the lifting of restrictions including quarantine-free arrivals.
Guangzhou, Guangdong province-based China Southern, one of the largest domestic airlines in terms of fleet size, said it plans to develop Beijing Daxing into a comprehensive hub and launch more flights from the terminal to Europe and the United States.
Currently, the State-owned carrier operates nine international routes from Beijing Daxing. By 2025, China Southern aims to put into use more than 200 aircraft at Beijing Daxing, it said.
In its inaugural flight from Beijing Daxing to London, an Airbus A350 widebody aircraft, carried more than 240 passengers. The daily route is expected to inject new vitality into Sino-UK relations and cooperation, promote in-depth exchanges between the two countries, and potentially satisfy flyers' demand to transfer from London to other cities in Europe and Africa, the carrier said.
"Now, China Southern operates over 120 international flights in total daily, involving some 80 routes. China's total operation of international flights have resumed to 35-40 percent of the pre-pandemic level," said Xiao Yong, deputy director general of the commercial steering committee at China Southern Airlines.
The airline said it plans to launch more international flights that connect China, Thailand and Singapore, one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists. In addition, the number of flights to Central Asia has resumed to about 60 percent of pre-pandemic level, and flights to Africa have almost rebounded to pre-pandemic numbers.
The pace of resumption of flights that connect China with Europe and the United States has been relatively slow due to several factors such as air rights, visa issuance and airport support capability, China Southern said.
Currently, Beijing Daxing International Airport operates more than 800 flights daily, and transports some 100,000 passengers daily.
"By the end of May, Beijing Daxing transported an accumulated 300,000 passengers for international flights. The airport will further raise its international influence and competence and build itself into a world-class air transport hub," said Li Yongbing, an official at Beijing Daxing International Airport.
Meanwhile, British Airways' first flight from London to Beijing in more than three years since the flight was halted due to the pandemic departed from Heathrow Airport on Saturday and touched down at Daxing Airport the following morning. The flight will operate four times a week between Beijing and London.
British Airways and its joint business partner China Southern both operate from Beijing Daxing, giving customers greater connectivity between the United Kingdom and China.
"The restart of one of our most important routes after more than three years is a long-awaited moment. Following the successful resumption of flights between Shanghai and London in April, we are excited to be back in Beijing too, facilitating international student and business travel once again," said Louise Street, British Airways' director of worldwide airports.
This week, the International Air Transport Association announced an expected strengthening of airline industry profitability in an upgrade of its outlook for 2023.
Airline industry net profits are expected to reach $9.8 billion this year, more than double the previous forecast of $4.7 billion in December 2022.