With no end in sight to the coronavirus epidemic, the crisis could soon push some Asian carriers to the brink of collapse as global travel demand plummets.
The outbreak of the new virus threatens to erase $29 billion of this year’s revenue for global airlines, mostly for Chinese carriers, as travel crashes worldwide, according to the International Air Transport Association.
The trade group for global airlines said Thursday that the virus causing COVID-19 has the potential for causing a 13 percent decline in demand for Asian carriers this year.
The contraction comes at a time when Asian airlines’ sales had been growing, the group said.
Global air traffic will be reduced by 4.7 percent for the year, marking the first overall decline in such demand since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the airline body said in a statement. How profits will be affected was still unclear, it said.
The estimates foresee a scenario where COVID-19 has a “V-shaped impact,” similar to what happened during the SARS virus outbreak in 2003, with a sharp dive followed by a quick recovery, according to the association.
The virus, which began in China late last year, has sickened more than 75,000 people in China, Some 2,000 people have died in China. More than 1,000 cases have been found outside mainland China.
Travel restrictions inside China and fear of the illness have devastated demand for domestic flights in the fast-growing China market.
Many nations are warning people not to travel to China, or barring travelers from China, especially from the Wuhan area, at the center of the outbreak.
People around the world are also voluntarily scaling back travel, while some governments and health experts are encouraging people to stay indoors not only in China but also South Korea and Japan to avoid getting infected.
“These are challenging times for the global air transport industry. Stopping the spread of the virus is the top priority,” said Alexandre de Juniac, the association’s director general and CEO. “This will be a very tough year for airlines.”
Analysts at Cowen, a U.S. investment bank and financial services company, noted the airline industry body might be underestimating the impact on Asia travel outside of China, noting the recent reports of dozens of cases in South Korea.
“While still relatively small, and too early to tell if it will spread further, we see this as a material negative data point on the global containment of the virus,” the Cowen report said.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
Photo credit: The coronavirus threatens to erase $29 billion of 2020 revenue for global airlines, mostly for Chinese carriers, as travel crashes worldwide, according to the International Air Transport Association. Erika Kinetz / The Associated Press