PARIS | Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Iberia announced Thursday the extension of several weeks of the suspension of their flights to mainland China in the face of the crisis linked to the sars coronavirus as fears are also gaining Hong Kong.
Many airlines, including Air France, British Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines or Delta have been suspended since the end of January their flights to mainland China to try to curb the spread of the virus.
With the emergence of a strong middle class, China is a locomotive of the sector of air transport.
In the first ten months of 2019, the air traffic has registered an increase of 8.5 per cent of domestic traffic compared to the same period in 2018, according to data from the international air transport association (Iata), which consists of 290 companies.
Air France and KLM announced Thursday the extension until 15 march of the suspension of their flights to mainland China, in which service was initially interrupted until the 9th of February. Depending of the situation, they will revert gradually to their operations to and from Shanghai and Beijing starting on 16 march 2020, and “the return flight schedule to normal is expected on march 29,” just as the service of Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, according to the companies.
The british company Virgin has also announced Thursday that the interruption of connections between the airport of London-Heathrow and Shanghai would be extended until march 28, while the Spanish Iberia extends the suspension of its flights to Shanghai until the end of April.
For the time being, the financial consequences of this sudden stop to the airlines and the airports have not been measured.
The air links, especially between Europe and China, have multiplied in recent years.
Compared to ten years ago, ” 450 million additional passengers per year travelling to and from China as well as in the country “, had stated to Iata at the end of January.
The organization recognizes the “risk that the spread of the virus could cause a significant disruption,” while noting that ” history shows that any effect on the air transportation would be temporary.”
SARS, highest impact
The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the origin of a deadly epidemic in 2002-2003, has been ” the event related to an epidemic that has had the most significant impact on volumes of traffic “, according to Iata.
“In may 2003, at the height of the epidemic, the average monthly revenues per passenger of the airlines of the Asia-Pacific had declined by 35% relative to the pre-crisis period,” says the organization.
“The loss of confidence and fears of a contamination world had affected both the market of the tourism and leisure business, of, to, and within, the region, causing losses of 8% and 6 billions” of dollars over the year to the companies in Asia-Pacific, ” she adds.
On Monday, Lufthansa, which had initially suspended its flights until 9 February, and the other group companies Swiss and Austrian Airlines, had extended the suspension of flights to China “until the 29th of February” to Beijing and Shanghai and “until march 28,” for Nanjing, Shenyang and Qingdao.
Wednesday, two major u.s. airlines, United and American Airlines, have announced the temporary suspension of their flights to Hong Kong, one of the most important airports in the world, in the aftermath of the announcement of first death from new coronavirus in this territory.
These two companies had already suspended their flights to mainland China where the new coronavirus, which emerged in December, has already made 563 deaths and infected more than 28 000 people in mainland China.
They were followed on Thursday by Virgin Australia which had also suspended its flights to Hong Kong.
China has closed the doors of several of its cities and prohibited the organized trips of its nationals inside the country and abroad to try to contain the contamination.