China’s high-speed rail network will impact over 80% of the country’s domestic aviation market when it enters service, according to a top airline executive.

China Southern Airlines chairman Si Xianmin said that at least 518 flights are expected to face a 50% decline in traffic by 2020 when the network is fully operational.

“The competition from high-speed trains is already on the rise. Weekly traffic has dropped by 30% on the Shanghai-Wuhan route and by 60% on the Beijing-Taiyuan route,” Xianmin said.

Expansion of the country’s high-speed train network is a national priority and has been designated as a core component of the government programme to stimulate the economy.

High-speed rail is expected to pose a threat to the nation’s airline industry, whch has not yet recovered from the financial crisis, because of several advantages including a better safety record, comfort, larger capacity and lower fares.

China expects to build 18,000km of the high-speed passenger network by 2020.