Skies clear as more flights grounded by growing coronavirus curbs
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Widening curbs on travel to contain the spread of the coronavirus led airlines to ramp up flight cancellations on Monday, with new restrictions spanning Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
Globally the number of scheduled flights last week was down more than 12% from the year earlier, flight data provider OAG said, with many airlines having announced further cuts to come.
“It is a war against a virus,” Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, told Reuters by telephone on Monday.
Credit ratings agency Moody’s estimated global capacity would fall by 25% to 35% in 2020, assuming the spread of the coronavirus slowed by the end of June.
Australia and New Zealand both warned against non-essential domestic travel, while the UAE halted flights and Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan took steps to ban foreign transit passengers.
“What we have to do is take care of the institutions and people’s livelihoods, the soft capital, so that we can restart effectively in a timely way when the time comes,” Herdman said.
The UAE, home to major carriers Emirates [EMIRA.UL] and Etihad Airways, said it would suspend all passenger flights and airport transit for two weeks to help rein in the virus.
The UAE’s decision takes effect in 48 hours, with cargo and emergency evacuation flights exempted. Emirates responded by saying it would temporarily suspend all passenger services for two weeks from March 25.
Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI) had been planning to halve its international capacity before the Asian city-state banned entry or transit by short-term visitors on Sunday.
It stepped that up to a cut of 96% until at least the end of April, with plans to ground most of its fleet.
The airline normally relies heavily on connecting passengers from markets such as Australia to Europe, and India to North America through its Singapore hub.
Singapore Airlines said it would look to defer aircraft deliveries and has drawn on lines of credit to meet immediate cashflow requirements.
Taiwan announced similar curbs that will hit China Airlines Ltd (2610.TW) and EVA Airways Corp (2618.TW), which have marketed Taipei as a convenient and affordable transit airport, competing with Hong Kong and Singapore.
In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293.HK) has cut its passenger capacity by 96% in April and May as government curbs hit travel.
The impact on planemakers has been deep and sudden and on Monday planemaker Airbus (AIR.PA) announced new steps to bolster its financial position, including the signing of a credit facility for 15 billion euros ($16.1 billion).
Airbus added it was withdrawing its 2020 financial guidance, dropping a proposed 2019 dividend that had a cash value of 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) and suspending funding to top up staff pension schemes.
Airbus said it had enough liquidity to cope with any further cash requirements related to the coronavirus, adding that it had around 30 billion euros worth of available liquidity.
Its U.S. rival Boeing (BA.N) is under similar pressure and has called for a $60 billion lifeline for the U.S. industry.
In the southern hemisphere, Qantas Airways Ltd (QAN.AX), Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd (VAH.AX) and Air New Zealand Ltd (AIR.NZ) were re-examining schedules after their governments advised against non-essential domestic travel.
Regional Express Holdings Ltd (REX) (REX.AX), which serves remote Australian towns, said it would shut all operations, except some subsidised routes, from April 6, unless governments quickly expressed a willingness to underwrite its losses.
In Hawaii, which ordered 14 days in quarantine for all arrivals from Thursday, Hawaiian Airlines (HA.O) said it would suspend most long-haul passenger services except for a daily flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles and a weekly flight to American Samoa.
In mainland China, domestic capacity has been rising as some internal curbs are eased, but there are concerns that passengers on international flights could re-import the virus.
More than 570,000 flights to, from and within, China were cancelled from Jan. 1 to March 16, data provider Cirium says.
China’s aviation regulator said all international flights due to arrive in the capital will be diverted from Monday to other airports in the country.
Reporting by Jamie Freed; Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Stella Qiu in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, David Shepardson in Washington and Sudip Kar-Gupta and Laura Marchioro in Paris; Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and xxxx