China's domestic air traffic, once the world's envy after a fast rebound during the pandemic, is faltering due to a zero-COVID policy of quickly stamping out virus clusters regardless of the economic cost.
A growing number of imported cases as the Omicron variant spreads around the world have also led the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to suspends more international flights recently.
The sector has been mired in deep losses since COVID-19 struck in early 2020, with China's three biggest airlines, Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines, posting a combined loss of 32.5 billion yuan ($5.10 billion) in the first three quarters of 2021, after a 42 billion yuan loss in 2020.
The CAAC, in a work meeting for 2022, said air passenger trips would likely exceed 570 million this year, compared with about 660 million in 2019 before COVID-19.
"Barring repeated fluctuations in COVID-19, we will strive to reverse losses and achieve profitability this year," the CAAC said in a statement.
China has been banking on the domestic market to drive a recovery in its aviation sector, while heavily curtailing the number of international flights to discourage travel.
The CAAC said on Friday it was targeting 2023-2025 for a recovery in international air travel.
($1 = 6.3724 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Robert Birsel)