Coronavirus threatens Asian airlines

China is the largest air transport market after the United States. The main companies have suspended or reduced flights to Chinese airports. The carriers of Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea are the most exposed to the downturn.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hong Kong Airlines is set to cut 400 jobs, or 10 per cent of its workforce, after the coronavirus outbreak in China dealt a serious blow to world air transport.

The company based in the autonomous region is already facing huge financial problems, made even worst by the decline in economic activities caused by months of protests by the pro-democracy movement.

Despite its better finances, Cathay Pacific, the flag carrier of Hong Kong, has also had to face the effects of the viral outbreak, asking its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave.

The spread of the Wuhan (Hubei) coronavirus has led to the almost total isolation of mainland China, and flight restrictions will inevitably reduce profits in the airline sector, especially in Asia.

All major airlines in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have suspended or drastically reduced flights to Chinese airports. The main US and European carriers have done the same, with flights suspended perhaps until March.

In view of the drop of international flights, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has urged the country’s airliners to guarantee flights to and from abroad.

According to the World Bank, China is the main market for air transport after the United States.

Chinese airports received around 610 million travellers in 2018, both international and domestic, plus 47 million passengers that went through Hong Kong.

Channel News Asia reports that Cathay Pacific and Malaysian-based AirAsia are the most vulnerable Asian companies to the negative effects of coronavirus – both cover 10 per cent of the international passenger transport to and from China – followed by Singapore Airlines and South Korea’s Korean Air and Asiana.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the air transport sector was already under pressure as a result of the trade war between China and the United States, only somewhat mitigated by the recent partial agreement between the two superpowers.