Skies clear as further coronavirus curbs ground more
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[March 23, 2020] By
Jamie Freed and Anshuman Daga
SYDNEY/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Widening
travel curbs to contain the spread of the coronavirus led to further
flight cancellations on Monday, with new restrictions spanning India,
Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hong Kong,
Singapore and Taiwan.
Globally the number of scheduled flights last week was down more than
12% from a year ago, flight data provider OAG said, with many airlines
having announced further cuts to come.
"It is a war against a virus," Andrew Herdman, director general of the
Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, told Reuters by telephone on
India's commercial airlines were to cease domestic flights from midnight
Tuesday, a civil aviation ministry spokesman said, the latest country to
impose tight air travel restrictions.
Cargo flights were exempt from the order.
The impact on planemakers has been deep and sudden and on Monday
planemaker Airbus <AIR.PA> announced new steps to bolster its financial
position, including the signing of a credit facility for 15 billion
euros ($16.1 billion).
Airbus added it was withdrawing its 2020 financial guidance, dropping a
proposed 2019 dividend that had a cash value of 1.4 billion euros ($1.5
billion) and suspending funding to top up staff pension schemes.
Its U.S. rival Boeing <BA.N> is under similar pressure and has called
for a $60 billion lifeline for the U.S. industry.
Australia and New Zealand both warned against non-essential domestic
travel, while the UAE halted flights and Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan
took steps to ban foreign transit passengers.
"What we have to do is take care of the institutions and people's
livelihoods, the soft capital, so that we can restart effectively in a
timely way when the time comes," Herdman said.
The UAE, home to major carriers Emirates [EMIRA.UL] and Etihad Airways,
said it would suspend all passenger flights and airport transit for two
weeks to help rein in the virus.
The UAE's decision takes effect in 48 hours, with cargo and emergency
evacuation flights exempted. Emirates responded by saying it would
temporarily suspend all passenger services for two weeks from March 25.
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A Singapore Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at Singapore's Changi
Airport March 11, 2020. Picture taken March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar
Singapore Airlines <SIAL.SI> grounded most of its fleet after the Asian
city-state banned entry or transit by short-term visitors on Sunday.
"This is the greatest challenge in the SIA Group's existence," Chief Executive
Goh Choon Phong said in a memo to staff.
The group said it had reached agreements with unions on a set of cost-cutting
measures, including unpaid leave, affecting about 10,000 staff. The chief
executive is taking a 30% salary cut from the start of April.
The airline normally relies heavily on connecting passengers from markets such
as Australia to Europe, and India to North America through its Singapore hub.
Taiwan announced similar travel curbs that will hit China Airlines Ltd <2610.TW>
and EVA Airways Corp <2618.TW>, which have marketed Taipei as a convenient and
affordable transit airport, competing with Hong Kong and Singapore.
In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd <0293.HK> has cut its passenger
capacity by 96% in April and May as government restrictions hit travel.
In the southern hemisphere, Qantas Airways Ltd <QAN.AX>, Virgin Australia
Holdings Ltd <VAH.AX> and Air New Zealand Ltd <AIR.NZ> were re-examining
schedules after their governments advised against non-essential domestic travel.
Regional Express Holdings Ltd (REX) <REX.AX>, which serves remote Australian
towns, said it would shut all operations, except some subsidized routes, from
April 6, unless governments quickly expressed a willingness to underwrite its
In mainland China, domestic capacity has been rising as some internal curbs are
eased, but there are concerns that passengers on international flights could
re-import the virus.
China's aviation regulator said all international flights due to arrive in the
capital will be diverted to other airports from Monday.
($1=1.7483 Australian dollars)
($1 = 0.9340 euros)
(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai,
Stella Qiu in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, David Shepardson in Washington
and Sudip Kar-Gupta and Laura Marchioro in Paris; Writing by Alexander Smith;
Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Keith Weir)
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