UPDATE 1-China's air passenger decline slows in May as economy reopens

* Air passengers down 52.6% y/y in May v. 68.5% in April

* Domestic market fuelling improvement in figures

* International flight numbers set to rise (Adds details from briefing, more stats from CAAC and background)

BEIJING, June 10 (Reuters) - China’s air passenger traffic halved in May from a year earlier as the coronavirus pandemic hampered travel in the country although the pace of decline slowed from the previous month, showing the industry is on track for a gradual recovery.

Air passengers numbered 25.83 million in May, down 52.6% year-on-year, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) spokesman Xiong Jie told an online news conference on Wednesday. That compared with a 68.5% year-on-year decline in April, when passengers numbered 16.72 million.

In the first five days on June, the average daily numbers of passengers and flights rose to 57.4% and 66.11% of levels seen last year, respectively, with load factors nearing 70%, CAAC said on Saturday.

The encouraging signs bode well for the global tourism industry, which is closely watching mainland travel patterns as countries follow China’s lead in reopening their economies.

Beijing is also relaxing its coronavirus-related curbs on international flights, allowing some foreign airlines that are currently barred from operating flights to China one flight a week into the country from June 8.

Some of the carriers preparing to resume flights to China have requested all passengers take a nucleic acid test for the coronavirus before boarding the plane, Xiong said.

The CAAC has said it would suspend airlines from services if five or more passengers on a flight tested positive upon arrival.

Xiong said the regulator is still in talks with other countries on the matter and is expected that the number of international flights would increase in the near future.

“In the next step, we will continue to restore some international passenger flights in a steady and orderly way... to further meet the demand from overseas Chinese wishing to return home,” he said. (Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes)