Flights between Thailand and China on Spring Airlines have recovered to 50% of pre-pandemic levels and are expected to resume normal frequencies this year, aided by high demand and a forecast of 5% Chinese GDP growth.
Zhang Wuan, vice-president of the Chinese carrier, said flights between Thailand and China have emerged as one of the top international routes because Thailand remains a popular destination for Chinese travellers.
Mr Zhang said the airline will fly 82 flights per week connecting three cities in Thailand and nine cities in China this summer, increasing from 62 flights per week in the winter schedule.
The Chinese cities are Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Ningbo, Nanchang, Jieyang, Nanning, Lanzhou and Chengdu.
The newest route slated for this season is a daily flight between Bangkok and Chengdu.
Bangkok has connections with all nine cities on the airline, while Chiang Mai has direct flights to two cities, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Phuket has direct service to Shanghai, he said.
Mr Zhang said he expects flight frequencies this year to equal the 2019 level, when it operated 148 flights per week between 19 Chinese cities and five Thai cities.
The current number of Thailand-China flights on the carrier is roughly half of 2019 levels, higher than the overall rate of international flights from China, which have recovered to 20% of pre-pandemic levels, he said.
With China resuming issuing tourist visas for foreigners, Mr Zhang forecast Thai visitors would account for 20% of passengers per flight, up from 5-10% during and prior to the pandemic.
He said Shanghai is the most popular destination for Thai tourists.
Mr Zhang said concerns about bank failures in the US and economic risks stemming from a global recession would not affect the airline's operations as it is confident about business growth this year, largely because of a projection of 5% GDP growth in China and policies focusing on domestic and international growth.
The average airfare for Spring for its domestic and international flights is 20% higher than pre-pandemic prices, attributed to limited flights and high demand. He said if flight frequencies increased, the average airfare should drop to pre-pandemic rates.
If Thailand offers visa-free access for Chinese visitors, airlines could increase flight capacity, said Mr Zhang.
In 2019, Spring Airlines operated more than 16,000 international flights from China. He expects the total this year to tally 50% of that figure.