Empty seats, grounded planes and deserted terminals: Coronavirus impact on airline industry is already ‘WORSE than 9/11’ and could cost $30 billion in lost revenue this year alone

Saturday, February 29, 2020
By Paul Martin

Airlines are cancelling flights and reducing schedules due to virus outbreak
Virus has caused an estimated 80% drop in travel at China’s busiest airports
Drop in global capacity, measured by grounded seats, is greater than after 9/11
Passengers are increasingly wary of flying even outside virus hotspots
Travelers at JFK express concern about lack of health screening at customs

28 February 2020

As the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak ripples out from the epicenter in China, airlines have been among the hardest hit.

Already, the outbreak is leading to sharp reductions in air travel demand in the US, with major companies such as Amazon ordering a freeze on all non-essential employee travel. The result is clear in photos showing empty airplane seats and deserted terminals.

In China, the impact has been even more severe, with air travel plummeting 80 percent at the country’s busiest airports and mass cancellations of both domestic and international flights.

The reduction in global airline capacity, measured by how many seats remain grounded, is now greater than after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, industry analysts say.

After 9/11, airline revenue dropped an estimated $19.6 billion in 2002 dollars. The coronavirus crisis could cost the industry an estimated $29.3 billion in lost revenue for 2020, according to the industry group IATA.

The group said on Friday that countries with confirmed virus cases in excess of 90 —China, Italy, Iran, Japan, Singapore and South Korea — represent 25 percent of global airline passenger numbers and 20 percent of global passenger revenues.

‘Back after 9/11 at the end of 2001, it really took about nine months before we saw the industry recover from the impact of the events,’ said Wall Street Journal aviation correspondent Benjamin Katz.

‘Now, with the coronavirus, it’s a very different situation and it’s difficult to give an assessment, but analysts are expecting with the coronavirus this could actually last quite a bit longer,’ he continued.

With the extent of the crisis still unknown, experts cautioned that the full impact on airlines remains to be seen.

‘If we look back in ten years time, will this be seen as a blip or a game changer?’ IBA Aviation Consultancy CEO Phil Seymour told the Journal.

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