Global airlines slash flights as travel restrictions multiply

Emirates and Singapore Airlines are the latest carriers to slash most flights as more countries tighten their borders.

Airbus cleaning - reuters
A member of cleaning staff disinfects a seat screen of an Emirates Airbus A380 before the carrier said it would suspend almost all passenger flights due to the coronavirus outbreak [File: Emirates Airline via Reuters]

Airlines cancelled more flights on Monday as Australia and New Zealand advised against non-essential domestic travel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) halted flights for two weeks and Singapore and Taiwan banned foreign transit passengers.

The UAE, home to large carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways, will suspend all inbound and outbound passenger flights and airport transit for two weeks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, state news agency WAM reported.

The decision will take effect in 48 hours and is subject to reassessment, WAM reported, noting that cargo and emergency evacuation flights were exempt.

Emirates, one of the world’s biggest long-haul airlines, said on Sunday it would stop nearly all passenger flights this week and cut staff wages by as much as half because of the coronavirus effect on travel demand.

Globally, the number of scheduled flights last week was down by more than 12 percent compared with the same period a year ago, flight data provider OAG says and many airlines have announced further cuts to come.

Singapore Airlines Ltd had been planning to halve its international capacity before the city-state’s government on Sunday banned short-term visitors from transiting or entering the country.

It increased that to a 96 percent cut through the end of April on Monday due to what it described as the greatest challenge the company had faced in its existence.

“Without a domestic segment, the group’s airlines become more vulnerable when international markets increasingly restrict the free movement of people or ban air travel altogether,” Singapore Airlines said in a statement as it announced plans to ground most of its fleet.

The airline normally relies heavily on connecting passengers from markets like Australia to Europe and India to North America through its hub. Singapore Airlines said it would look to defer aircraft deliveries and it had drawn on lines of credit to meet immediate cash-flow requirements.

Taiwan announced similar transit restrictions which will hit the business of China Airlines Ltd and EVA Airways Corp, which have in recent years marketed Taipei as a convenient and affordable transit airport, competing with Hong Kong and Singapore.

In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd has cut its passenger capacity by 96 percent in April and May as government curbs make travel more difficult.

In the southern hemisphere, Qantas Airways Ltd, Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd and Air New Zealand Ltd said they were re-examining their domestic schedules after their governments advised against non-essential domestic travel.

Some Australian states and territories are now requiring arrivals from other states to self-isolate for 14 days.

Regional Express Holdings Ltd (REX), which serves remote Australian towns, said it would shut all operations except some subsidised routes in Queensland state from April 6 unless governments quickly expressed a willingness to underwrite its losses.

“Failure to achieve any traction in this regard will see regional communities lose their air services for many months ahead and even after this is all over, we are afraid that some of the more marginal communities will no longer have an air service,” REX Deputy Chairman John Sharp said in a statement.

Australia’s largest airport operator, Sydney Airport Holdings Pty Ltd, said on Monday it was looking to lower its capital spending from its previous forecast of 350 million Australian dollars to 450 million Australian dollars ($200-257m) to focus only on critical projects due to the fall in traffic.

In mainland China, which was hit first by the coronavirus outbreak, domestic capacity has been rising as some internal restrictions are loosened but there are concerns that passengers on international flights could reimport the virus.

China’s aviation regulator said all international flights due to arrive in Beijing would be diverted to other airports as their first port of entry beginning on Monday, as the country steps up measures to battle the coronavirus.

More than 570,000 flights to, from and within China alone were cancelled from January 1-March 16, according to Cirium, a flight data provider.

Source: Reuters