Virus could mean US$5 billion in airline losses: UN agency

Virus could mean US$5 billion in airline losses: UN agency

FILE PHOTO:  A passenger wears a protective mask as he walks through Hong Kong International Airpor
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wears a protective mask as he walks through Hong Kong International Airport on Feb 7, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

MONTREAL: The new coronavirus outbreak could mean a reduction of US$4-5 billion in worldwide airline revenue, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on Thursday (Feb 13).

The UN agency reported that 70 airlines have canceled all international flights in and out of China and 50 others have reduced their operations.

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Preliminary estimates show this has meant a reduction of nearly 20 million passengers compared to expectations for the first quarter of 2020.

That figure equates to potential lost revenue of up to US$5 billion, the agency said.

The virus has killed nearly 1,400 people in China and infected nearly 64,600 there. It has now spread beyond China to more than 25 countries, with the World Health Organization declaring a public health emergency last month.

"Prior to the outbreak, airlines had planned to increase capacity by nine per cent on international routes to/from China for the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019," ICAO said in a statement.

The reality has been a reduction in foreign airline traveler capacity of 80 per cent.

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Japan looks to be hardest-hit from a reduction in Chinese air travelers in the first quarter, ICAO said. The country could lose US$1.29 billion in tourism revenue, with Thailand not far behind at a US$1.15 billion loss potential.

ICAO said the effects of the COVID-19 virus outbreak on the airline industry are expected to be larger than the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic because flight cancellations are more widespread this time.

In addition, China's international air traffic has doubled and its domestic air traffic increased five-fold in the last 17 years.

Chinese authorities have locked down Hubei province, the virus epicenter, and have restricted movements in several cities as part of an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

Britain, Germany, the US, Japan and others have advised against travel to China.

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Source: AFP/ic

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