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Special Report - COVID-19 Aviation Impact

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  • China’s coronavirus now confirmed in 25 countries.

  • WHO designate official name for virus as COVID-19.

  • Two-thirds of international flights cancelled to and from China amid outbreak.

  • Chinese nationals restricted from booking international flights out of the country.

  • Several countries restricting flights originating from China.

  • Screening measures in place at airports worldwide.

  • Several foreign governments advising citizens not to travel to China.

  • Financial implications to aviation industry likely to exceed 2003 SARS cost estimated at $6 billion.

  • Outbreak estimated to cost over $280 billion to the global economy.

  • More than 45,000 people infected, with 1,000 + fatalities, primarily in China.

coronavirus airport


With coronavirus now confirmed in 25 countries globally, and over 45,000 people infected, governments around the world are implementing strict measures in an attempt to contain the virus, now deemed by the United Kingdom (UK) as representing a serious and imminent threat to public health.

As a result, several airlines around the world have cancelled flights to and from China, Hong Kong and Macau. Additionally, airports across Asia, MENA and the Americas have introduced strict screening measures, with some refusing entry to travellers inbound from China.

Chinese nationals have been restricted from booking international flights out of the country.


With aviation being the primary mode of domestic and international travel globally, airlines have born the brunt of restrictions implemented to try and limit the spread of the virus. Airlines located at the centre of the outbreak in China and surrounding countries across Asia have been severely affected by the travel restrictions with two-thirds of international flights to and from the region cancelled.

Japan has seen the biggest reduction in direct flight capacity from/to China with over 60% fewer flight seats week commencing 10 February than week commencing 20 January. This represents around 200,000 fewer direct flight seats and 16% of Japan’s total international flight capacity. Although direct flights between the US and China have fallen 86% with 73,000 fewer flight seats, this accounts for less than 3% of all US international air traffic.

However, it is the Special Administrative Region’s of Hong Kong and Macau who have been hit hardest. Macau has experienced a 68% drop in international flights with Hong Kong suffering a reduction of 39%. According to aviation group OAG, despite the virus causing unprecedented international reductions in aviation capacity due to a mix of travel restrictions and a general downturn in demand, typically events of this nature have a short term impact on demand for air travel, and that strength of demand means that passenger growth always returns, often stronger than before the crisis as was the case with SARS.

Hong Kong has 50 reported cases, Singapore 47, 33 Thailand, 28 South Korea, 28 Japan, 18 Malaysia, 18 Taiwan, 16 Germany, 15 Australia, 15 Vietnam, 13 US, 11 France, 10 Macau, 8 United Arab Emirates, 8 UK, 7 Canada, 3 Italy, 3 Philippines, 3 India, 2 Russia, 2 Spain, 1 Nepal, 1 Cambodia, 1 Belgium, 1 Finland, 1 Sweden, 1 Sri Lanka. Elsewhere there are 175 reported cases in non-specified countries.


Given the vast global reach of the virus, many countries have already introduced specific measures aimed at preventing the spread of the disease through international travel. Germany, France and Poland have published very similar Notams stating travellers on flights from mainland China must  complete a copy of the ICAO health declaration and that operators must also keep all passenger data (names, contacts, where they sat on the plane) for at least 30 days.

According to aviation community the Ops Group, many other countries have taken more stringent steps, even denying entry to travellers from mainland China. In Hong Kong, all travellers arriving from mainland China will be put into home quarantine for 14 days – including Hong Kong residents and foreign citizens. Even if they are entering Hong Kong from other places, if they have visited the Mainland over the past 14 days, mandatory quarantine will still be applicable upon their arrival.

Hong Kong has also closed 10 out of 13 border crossings with mainland China. Hong Kong airport, the Shenzhen Bay joint checkpoint and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge remain open although there are ongoing protests by some medical staff to demand that the government close all routes to mainland China.

The US has implemented strict entry limits on any foreign nationals who have visited China in the past 14 days. The restriction applies to travel to parts of the US, including overseas territories (Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and Guam). In addition, US citizens returning from Hubei province, where the outbreak started, will be quarantined for 14 days.

In Singapore, foreign nationals who have travelled to mainland China within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through the country. National citizens who have been in Hubei Province in the last 14 days will be quarantined upon entry in Singapore. Short or multiple-term visas issued to mainland Chinese nationals have been suspended and invalidated.

Airlines in Asia have been heavily impacted with some of the major national carriers forced to implement suspensions to normal services. Air Asia and All Nippon has suspended a number of China routes until 29 February with Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon reducing their China flights by 90%. Japan Airlines has suspensions in place until 28 March and Korean Air until at least the end of March. Singapore Airlines and SilkAir has suspended several flights until 1 March. Qantas and Air New Zealand have suspended China routes until 29 March.

In Europe and the Middle East, Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Finnair, KLM and Iberia all have suspensions in place.

In North America, airlines impacted include American Airlines, United Airlines and Air Canada.

Travellers are advised to follow the advice of their government and to check future flight itineraries with their airline.