Mainland carriers saw a substantial rebound in passenger traffic last month, thanks to an earlier Lunar New Year and cheaper air tickets. Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines Corp and other carriers carried 17.48 million passengers last month, up 17.6 per cent from a year earlier, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on its website yesterday. The fact the Lunar New Year fell in January this year compared with February last year contributed to the surge in passenger traffic. A fair comparison of traffic should take into account the February traffic figure this year. A fierce price war among mainland carriers, flooding the market with deep discounted air fares, also lifted demand. Domestic traffic increased 21.3 per cent to 16.27 million passengers. Regional traffic, or routes bound to Hong Kong and Macau, rose 11.8 per cent to 456,000. China Eastern previously posted a 9.8 per cent increase in passenger numbers last month over the same period last year, while China Southern saw a 16.2 per cent surge in passenger traffic. International traffic and cargo volume, however, did not benefit from the week-long festival holiday. International traffic remained lukewarm as the global economic downturn suppressed overseas business as well as discretionary traffic. Cross-border traffic decreased 16.6 per cent to 1.2 million passengers. Cargo volume fell 28.5 per cent to 264,000 tonnes. China Eastern and China Southern both said their cargo volume dropped one-third year on year last month. In light of the surge in passenger numbers and a decline in jet-fuel prices, mainland carriers could have returned to the black last month, said CAAC. However, it was too early to predict a recovery in passenger traffic as the figures were partially distorted by the earlier Lunar New Year holiday, said Kelvin Lau, transport analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research. As of the end of November, mainland carriers incurred more than 7 billion yuan (HK$7.94 billion) of losses in aggregate last year.