For an indication of how much China’s Air Travel industry has grown in the past 20 years, it’s tempting to look back to the period of the SARS virus, which started in late 2002 in Guangdong Province. According to the Daily Beast: “that virus reached Hong Kong in February 2003 and Beijing in April. Hong Kong and Singapore were then the principal airline hubs in the region. From Hong Kong the virus jumped to Singapore, Toronto and Hanoi. In the end there were cases in 26 countries, with a total of 774 deaths, but the outbreak was contained without becoming a pandemic”.
In contrast, the Covid19 virus emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, one of the country’s most densely populated and fastest growing regions which, being in the very centre of China’s “Go West” strategy, is a major logistics and travel hub and, unfortunately, was the perfect place for a global pandemic to spread. “China’s demand for air travel nearly quadrupled between 2008 and 2018. By 2019 it was generating 18% of the world’s airline passenger traffic, worth $89 billion a year. The eight busiest airports in China together were, in one year, handling far more passengers than the entire population of the United States: a total of more than 482 million”.
Today, Chinese Airlines are busy again and now sit “like a great octopus straddling the air routes of the Asia Pacific region, giving it an entirely new level of influence on how the future of air travel develops, not only in this region but beyond it”. Meanwhile, many US airlines (e.g United, American and Delta) which had built very profitable routes into the Chinese market have had to suspend all their Chinese flights since February and now have to start again from scratch (assuming the US and China can patch up their differences to allow access again).
As the article concludes “one thing is for sure. The future geography of the international airline network soon will be very different. The basic global route map has remained the same since the beginning of the Jet Age 60 years ago, with a strong bias favoring the western airlines who pioneered it. At that time China was virtually a void on the map. Now it’s looking more like the center of the world”.