SEOUL-- Air traffic in South Korea jumped 6.6 percent in the first half helped by increased demand on non-Chinese routes, government data showed Sunday.

The number of passengers on Korean and international routes run by domestic airline carriers rose to 53.08 million in the January-June period from 49.80 million a year earlier, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said in a statement.

"An increase in travel demand on routes to Europe, Japan and Southeast Asian countries helped offset sharp declines in demand on Chinese routes," the ministry said.

The number of passengers on Chinese routes fell 28 percent year-over-year to 6.99 million last month, while passengers on European, Japanese and Southeast Asian routes jumped 16 percent, 28 percent and 19 percent, respectively, to 2.48 million, 9.01 million and 14.4 million, the latest tally showed.

Starting March 15, China banned the sale of group travel packages to South Korea as part of its apparent retaliation against the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Seoul and Washington have argued THAAD is purely aimed at countering missile threats from North Korea. But Beijing has opposed the system, arguing it could be used against it.

The ministry expected travel demand on Chinese routes will remain weak throughout the year, but overall air traffic will continue to rise backed by increased flights by low-cost carriers and higher demand on other Asian routes.

Meanwhile, the country's air cargo traffic grew to 2.1 million tons in the first half, up 7.9 percent from a year earlier on robust exports of information technology products, the ministry said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency