Coronavirus and travel restrictions set to ravage Asia’s airlines – dpa international


An airplane descending into Singapore’s Changi Airport, as seen from Pulau Ubin a small island off Singapore’s main island (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — An industry body representing nearly 300 airlines warned on Friday that carriers in the Asia-Pacific region could see business drop by half this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which includes 290 airlines among its members, said on Friday that the sector faces a revenue drop of 113 billion dollars due to a pandemic that has killed an estimated 190,000 people worldwide.

Airlines in the region face “a 50-per-cent fall in passenger demand in 2020 compared to 2019,” the IATA stated, warning of catastrophic knock-on impacts in related sectors.

“11.2 million jobs are at risk, including those that are dependent on the aviation industry, such as travel and tourism,” according to Conrad Clifford, IATA’s Singapore-based Asia-Pacific vice-president.

He called on governments to step in to help stricken carriers, after the collapse of airline Virgin Australia, which went into voluntary administration earlier in the week.

IATA’s estimates are based on a scenario of “severe” travel restrictions lasting three months.

However governments in the region fear the pandemic and travel curbs could last longer.

Singapore has warned since March that the pandemic could last a year, while Malaysia – which on Thursday extended to May 12 a lockdown aimed at curbing the pandemic locally – has said it will keep its borders closed after the lockdown ends, despite the potentially-devastating impact on the country’s tourism industry.

Airlines and airports across Asia have been reporting declining traffic since January, when many countries banned incoming travel from China, the source of the outbreak and the source of up to a quarter of visitors to some neighbouring countries.

As the outbreak morphed into a pandemic in March, travel came a near standstill, with airlines cancelling flights amid a collapse in demand.

In Asia, “industries such as retailing, tourism and airlines have been hard hit by the government lockdown measures,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit, in a report published on Friday.

The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), a United Nations body, stated on Wednesday that global air traffic could fall by two-thirds by September.

Thailand’s airports authority stated on the same day that it expects air traffic to fall by 53 per cent in 2020, with its Malaysian counterpart reporting a 63 per cent fall in March.

Singapore’s Changi Airport, a major international hub, stated last week that its March traffic was down 70 per cent year-on-year – data that does not take in the impact of the lockdown imposed in the wealthy city-state on April 7.

The international airport on Bali, a hugely-popular Indonesian holiday island, saw a less-severe decline, airport data show, with traffic for the January-March period down 16 per cent on 2019.

Indonesia’s government announced a month-long ban on domestic air travel on Friday.

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