Airlines cancel more mainland China flights to curb spread of virus

British Airways halted daily routes to Beijing and Shanghai from London's Heathrow airport.
British Airways halted daily routes to Beijing and Shanghai from London's Heathrow airport.PHOTO: EPA

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Airlines across the globe suspended more flights to China as governments clamped down on travel to help stop the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus.

British Airways halted daily routes to Beijing and Shanghai from London's Heathrow airport, after British officials advised against non-essential travel.

The British flag carrier, a unit of IAG SA, said it would reassess over the next few days.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways said it would cut capacity to China by 50 per cent or more starting on Thursday (Jan 30).

Other European and North American airlines adjusted their schedules as well:

  • Delta Air Lines is cutting service to China in half to 21 flights a week, from Feb 6 through to April 30;
     
  • Deutsche Lufthansa AG is suspending service to China until Feb 9;
     
  • American Airlines Group is suspending flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai and Beijing from Feb 9 through to March 27;
     
  • United Airlines Holdings is reducing service to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong;
     
  • Air France-KLM's Dutch unit is suspending direct flights to Chengdu and Hangzhou as of Thursday, reducing number of weekly flights to Shanghai to seven from 11 times a week, and suspending direct flights to Xiamen as of Thursday;
     
  • Air Canada said it is suspending flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Thursday until Feb 29;
     
  • IAG's Iberia is suspending flights to Shanghai from Friday through to February.
     


 

The changes come amid stepped-up efforts by the authorities to stop the spread of the virus, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. With clusters cropping up in countries such as Germany, airlines placed other Chinese destinations off limits. Oil traders dumped contracts for jet fuel in anticipation of an extended slowdown.

The White House is considering further restrictions on US airlines flying to and from China in addition to voluntary restrictions the companies have put into place, President Donald Trump's economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Wednesday. "The matter is under discussion every day," he said.

Almost 9 per cent of flights scheduled to or from China were scrapped between Jan 23 and Jan 27, according to research from Cirium, which analyses air travel.

 
 
 

The virus appears to represent the biggest epidemic threat to the airline industry since the Sars outbreak, which at its peak in April 2003 led to a 45 per cent plunge in passenger demand in Asia, analysts said.

Sars hit the industry hard initially but the effect was fleeting, said Mr Jozsef Varadi, chief executive officer of Wizz Air Holdings.

"It fell like a stone in the first month but then it started recovering and after four months everything went back to normal," Mr Varadi said on an earnings conference call Wednesday.

"Probably this is going to be a better controlled issue so I wouldn't expect the same impact as from Sars."

China Southern Airlines could face the largest blow among the country's "big three" carriers, as it controls 30 per cent of Wuhan's seat capacity, with routes to and from the capital of Hubei province accounting for 3.6 per cent of its seats, said Bloomberg Intelligence analysts James Teo and Chris Muckensturm.

That compares with 1.5 per cent for Air China, which is also vulnerable, the analysts wrote in a report.

Wuhan's airport, which was largely closed on Jan 23, handles about 25 million passengers a year.

Passenger traffic at airlines such as Cathay Pacific and China Southern plunged 32 per cent to 37 per cent in the first half of 2003 because of the Sars pandemic, Mr Teo and Mr Muckensturm added.

This time, "international airports' swift implementation of preventative measures can help blunt the impact", they said.