China Southern Airlines Sees Strong Domestic Travel

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines is reporting a marked increase in passenger capacity (measured by available seat kilometers or ASKs). In April, the airline says passenger capacity for domestic, regional, and international routes increased significantly measured against April 2020 levels. And perhaps more tellingly, China Southern operated more flights in April 2021 than it did in April 2019.

China Southern Airlines has released passenger statistics for April. Photo: Getty Images

Headline percentages and some positive signs for China Southern Airlines

According to data released by the airline to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, the total available seat kilometers across China Southern Airlines in April was 153.6% higher than in April 2020. Given the global airline industry was crash landing last April as the worldwide travel downturn kicked in, that’s no surprise. Nowadays, most airlines refrain from measuring against 2020 figures, preferring 2019 data as the most recent set of ‘normal’ data.

However, throughout April 2021, the number of flights operated by China Southern Airlines did comfortably top the number of flights operated in April 2019. In general, operating flights in April 2021 exceeded April 2019 levels by about 20% across the Chinese domestic airline industry. However, in the first half of May, the gap has narrowed. In the second half of May, the number of China Southern flights operated looks likely to be largely on parity with what the airline flew in May 2019.

On flight numbers alone, OAG data had China Southern Airlines operating 65,356 flights across April. On that metric, the airline ranked as China’s biggest and the fifth largest in the world behind the four big United States-based airlines.

China Southern Airlines operated 65,356 flights in April. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

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Measure against 2019 data, and a truer picture reveals at China Southern Airlines

Diving into the recently released data, China Southern Airlines says its domestic April ASKs were 157.2% higher than in April 2020. Regional April 2021 ASKs were 290% higher than in April 2020, and international April 2021 ASKs were 73.6% higher compared to April 2020.

On raw passenger numbers, China Southern Airlines flew 11,967,160 domestic passengers, 17,630 regional passengers, and 61,450 passengers in April for a total of 12,046,240 passengers. Despite China Southern’s normally extensive international operations, domestic passengers made up 99.34% of all passengers on China Southern Airlines in April 2021.

If you look at the raw passenger numbers from April 2019, the results are telling. In April 2019, China Southern carried 10,049,170 domestic passengers. That is slightly less than the 11,967,160 domestic passengers the airline flew this April. However, China Southern carried 233,640 regional passengers in April 2019, a lot more (around 92.5% more) than it flew this April.

Across the airline’s longer-range international operations, 1,660,690 passengers boarded a China Southern flight in April 2019. That’s approximately 96.3% more international passengers than in April 2021.

Measuring against 2019 data paints a better picture of China Southern’s performance. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Regional and international flying continues to struggle at China Southern Airlines

Back to China Southern’s headline April 2021 ASK figures. On the domestic front, April 2021 ASKs were up 19.7% on the April 2019 domestic ASKs, so there’s some growth. But across China Southern’s regional flying, April 2021 ASKs were 93.9% down on April 2019 levels. Perhaps that’s a more telling indicator of how China Southern’s regional services are traveling than the April 2020 figure.

It is a similar story for China Southern’s international ASKs. The April 2021 ASK figure might be 73.6% higher than the April 2020 figure, but they are 94.8% down on the April 2019 ASKs.

The statistics do tell us two key things. Firstly, China Southern’s international long-haul and regional operations continue to flounder. This is despite headline percentages attempting to suggest otherwise. Secondly, domestic travel is the lifeblood of China Southern Airlines right now.