ICAO Says Coronavirus Is Hitting Air Transport Harder Than SARS

 - February 14, 2020, 4:17 AM

Around 70 airlines have now cancelled all international flights to and from mainland China, according to new data released by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as part of a preliminary forecast on the expected economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. In a statement issued late on February 13, the agency said that it now expects the airline industry to take a bigger hit from this outbreak than it did from the SARS epidemic in 2003.

ICAO reported that a further 50 airlines have cut back on services connected to flights to and from China. This has resulted in an 80 percent cut in foreign airline capacity and a 40 percent reduction by Chinese carriers.

Before the outbreak, which has prompted widespread travel bans, ICAO said that during the first quarter airlines had planned to increased capacity on international routes out of China by 9 percent compared with the same period in 2019. Its preliminary estimates now suggest that the first quarter of this year will instead result in an overall reduction of between 39 and 41 percent. This equates to a loss of between 16.4 and 19.6 million passengers and a potential loss of between $4 billion and $5 billion in airline gross operating revenues.

ICAO sees steep decline in tourism by Chinese travelers during the first three months of 2020. It estimates that Japan could lose $1.29 billion in tourism revenues during this period and Thailand $1.15 billion.

The agency said that coronavirus is already having a greater impact than SARS because of overall higher airline traffic volumes and more widespread flight cancellations at a time of normally high seasonal load factors. China’s international airline traffic has doubled since 2003 and its domestic traffic is five times larger.

The latest estimates do not take account of the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the air freight sector for cargo-only aircraft or on airports and air navigation service providers. The figures also do not include international traffic to Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan.