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The Chinese roller coaster: air traffic in China during COVID-19

The Chinese roller coaster: air traffic in China during COVID-19

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Air traffic in China dropped over 80% from the third week of January 2020 to the third week of February 2020, as the country locked down to prevent the spread of what we now call COVID-19. But by October, domestic traffic had returned to pre-pandemic levels and total traffic was down less than 10%. Flights remained mostly flat through November before beginning a steep descent that leaves traffic at China’ busiest airports down 55% from pre-pandemic levels and 50% from where it was just last October.

Air traffic at China’s busiest airports back down 55% from pre-pandemic levels

Total Departures from 25 busiest mainland China airports plus Daxing Airport in Beijing during 2020-21Air traffic in China made a robust recovery through the middle of 2020 led by domestic traffic growth, but China’s busiest airports are now back to levels not seen since April. Below, we chart the 25 busiest airports in mainland China plus the recently opened Daxing Airport in Beijing from the end of 2019 through the beginning of February 2021. Beijing Capital (PEK) is highlighted in blue, while the red dashed line shows traffic at Daxing Airport (PKX).

Departures from select mainland China airports 2020-2021Looking at just the 10 busiest airports in mainland China over the past year, it is possible to identify the unevenness of the recovery at the three busiest airports.

air traffic in China at the 10 busiest airportsDepartures from select mainland China airports, 2020-21

Airport31-Dec7-Jan14-Jan21-Jan28-Jan4-Feb11-Feb18-Feb25-Feb3-Mar10-Mar17-Mar24-Mar31-Mar7-Apr15-Apr21-Apr28-Apr5-May12-May19-May26-May2-Jun9-Jun16-Jun23-Jun30-Jun7-Jul14-Jul21-Jul28-Jul4-Aug11-Aug18-Aug25-Aug1-Sep8-Sep15-Sep22-Sep29-Sep6-Oct13-Oct20-Oct27-Oct3-Nov10-Nov17-Nov24-Nov1-Dec8-Dec15-Dec22-Dec29-Dec5-Jan12-Jan19-Jan26-Jan2-Feb9-Feb16-Feb23-Feb2-Mar9-Mar16-Mar23-Mar30-Mar6-Apr
PEK899919932922679341209159128232189200170197171177163208247322400386544531344155146199280369411458507514542422449502525415558533598617626611594602607597609570466378354285348296405311404474517615620583592
PKX14515115817215172463426493444404355496960711051001372232121384537407612917523624925530432533235932635237736736046544544342938738738537936730923821719469102162186245315323404429465479
PVG764790823841685371260227135277251260306307343357339403411448493468460473477479501487507555572536586567565547585622634527656639628678692686544489408411469484490478517538434336468412448592608646683676690
CAN757768841854637288196156132301317372411322330422364410400468528515540578576566572618636670692667688652734736629674683544744720711767798810810791798815818800734688672652522468513519601739798794811760794
CTU582578608632484207157171210363335319309329335372365425420471506495520546528527492496551546544552476581629570590609625442610590586609618573634645625605328336398461471464471366429451503585576620598574597
SZX581570609624505199170135140332320289270312303330351405378481492511516556536550515523572573568547552495589541524543587475598565625597558577552551552545541532518470496474421383416426457541560570579552574
KMG5205495715894661328698115286257249217246231251251289311333370340408377410411396376434455472495519517520474445507500349519486475485484498493497489497469472468475445426341266284375442517518521531514491
XIY526516536554397112585683238198237233210214239226297300351354353375385420403389368444447447447462463599461433461461352510483469327317319323280427447434421417419407355284250270323370438462483437465477
SHA453462481468323149143113109188197207193182226235252267276329372401419413340389399390422416433372407421449440427435462354461461473449459443451443434442464471444422429411311216321321385452458458467473461
CKG52351856156544313697115153327270268229245261311288342354415490428517515538529482482490507495480543518524509504507521396573531526546512532552514524534498491480461472463423322361421466512511544544555566
HGH404426433443305836088110209180186169203218235233244281301313300339326360344338336377375395314394377425410402420436325451430421516405422429412416404390401368351362339292253272268329411418424439429470
NKG32533135735126385545560135105105113148141167154185185209219210226222227239263225253287290285302309311292279296320244345293299314302304313320318307295295237277270235187134181193242301292302324325343
CGO30628534034123955444153152140162138144156173174182187223241240265270290284265257295285270264278279285279279278285211317288299320314315303309298296284277271267277236209161182240254309308307267251254
XMN2842983113141838464596612311812499101122138138151182186187180194196207202199198211232245235172259253239269257264198280261260261251262258252258250248236242224208176155123152165192239256259270265283
CSX238237276281204454236409179929891122139129161182207219204239229255246216200242237245251255266269260234272261206305271254256242252248242229252215239228211210199151103135160190239242250250283275
TAO28828729332921377564046756867711041141111081331661822011942222262252482062182342442522272492502492583452662711942681949212616820118820321922621519718318918515611792109120161217230231214239267
WUH2722713003031615136471026125222432634616352618482119134134121141168175180201205217223219238221157248232220244239258255247239245220224226214213186140122169202227260264271280258300
HAK270271287298256100604144958198101122126132108130115132151127156141149165150144184200194203212209220216213213214174240166219260256263262265271276274277265248249236176134174226213230253270277237245
TSN219243254261208764236257154686474819192107127142180170180168175175182178187194202195199200219221215230214171245230231231217208175135139140147166177174174154136104124128149190206214220225229
URC13614915315979282115153534135120877886787983137181168191183195195103101123311618152023435179107941211181291281071101121081101141071069610611610287738496104131139136144148151
HRB207208221224180735739319484112929388903937455011810212213116415412511915818018417718918619219012518421115522722221720820620820222122222222223123323117912266566387152229229214222215225
KWE1922072002081653526295413813311511296104123116146144172181171185200206194180145187200198196220208208206188215211131216202189176193191184181177180158166162171179168149129130163184206208187194198208
SYX2712222923132598572523876767990103107119112124122127129131151160156148152151179173182177189192204199201198197163214160197224219207209215220210231223248222215192168147202242229229225230236201208
SHE195198214222179626040398069706987877683961111311111061271281641651571391481651771761701821921801741851911402051891941982002091971831801821761841666644491273105117142182180189180211203
DLC220199219226141754136315449524559607067849310812312513212613416214312815816647333552771281301551561281921661681581721671471501391421401075443374952568393110145160164147171191
TNA1751701952001543835253050495553829010294107114130140144144149146151156136150166169162173193189189176199194136200197184192190194183180180186167157169169149119917295106141175181180166184201

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