Flights within China should fully recover by the start of next month according to a global travel data firm.
Air travel has been picking up gradually since the coronavirus grounded the majority of planes in February.
This month domestic arrivals at Chinese airports reached 86% of 2019 levels according to figures from ForwardKeys.
Its prediction is a glimmer of hope for the airline industry which is suffering mass layoffs and losses
By mid-February the majority of flights within China were cancelled as it took measures to control the spread of the virus.
As virus cases reduced, more flights were re-instated and bookings are now back to 98%, with most being for travel in mid to late August.
“This is a highly significant moment because it is the first time, since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, that a major segment of the aviation market anywhere in the world has returned to pre-pandemic levels,” said Olivier Ponti at ForwardKeys.
Its forecast that domestic flights will fully recover by early September is based on a number of factors, such as keeping the pandemic under control and the continued use of “aggressive price promotions”.
Many Chinese airlines have launched discounts to entice passengers back, with some promotions targeted at university students.
Travel to Sanya, the holiday hotspot in the South China Sea, has seen strong recovery helped by a new duty-free policy.
“The crunch question is whether heavy discounting will still be needed to maintain the recovery,” added Mr Ponti.
“China’s advantage is that they have a huge domestic hinterland, and they have a strong domestic tourism market, which can help the Chinese carriers mitigate any impact,” added Alfred Chua at FlightGlobal magazine.
However, Chinese travel to Beijing is still 24.8% behind the same period in 2019, held back by the city’s second coronavirus outbreak in early June.
The recovery in domestic air travel in China is one positive development in an otherwise bleak outlook for the aviation industry. But international flights are not expected to fully recover for many years.
The International Air Transport Association, a global industry group, has warned global passenger numbers will not return to pre-virus levels until 2024, a year later than previously projected.
The recovery in short haul travel is still expected to happen faster than for long haul travel it said, as travel bubbles are established between countries.
Earlier this week, American Airlines said it will cut 19,000 jobs in October when a government wage support scheme extended to airlines during the pandemic comes to an end.
The world’s biggest airline said the cuts would leave its workforce 30% smaller than it was in March.
Other carriers have also warned of similarly large cuts amid a severe slump in air travel which is expected to see losses of more than $84bn (£66bn) this year.
“At least for the rest of the year, I think we will see two very distinct patterns: domestic will be recovering very quickly, with international networks still very weak,” added Mr Chua.