European airlines warn of worsening impact of coronavirus

European airlines warn of worsening impact of coronavirus
  • Clock-gray 18:01
  • calendar-gray 03 March 2020

European airlines warned on Tuesday the worst is still to come in economic damage to the industry from the rapid spread of coronavirus Covid-19, APA reports citing Reuters.

They also called for a relaxation of airport regulations under which airlines can lose lucrative landing and take-off slots if they cancel flights for a prolonged period.

“We request that a temporary waiver be granted by all (EU) member states,” Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) CEO Ben Smith said ahead of an annual conference of the Brussels-based lobbying group.

Airlines also want a “common set of health requirements for travel to and from the affected regions”, he said.

Airlines worldwide have been suspending flights or modifying services in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has now claimed more than 3,000 lives and infected more than 90,000 people globally, after spreading from China to 77 other countries and territories.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways owner IAG (ICAG.L), noted a “very significant fall-off in demand” in Italian markets in the past week, but predicted demand would stabilize in coming weeks if it follows a pattern seen in Asia.

The coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has spread rapidly around the world over the past week, with more new cases now appearing outside China than within. Italy has seen the biggest outbreak in Europe so far.

The crisis, which has led to a quarter of the short-haul fleet of airlines like Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) being grounded, comes on top of a list of pressures on the European airline industry.

Executives at the Brussels gathering listed other grievances including the failure to reform air traffic control networks under the delayed EU Single European Sky initiative.

“It is a scandal that we are still flying the skies today in the same way we were 40 years ago,” Walsh said.

Ryanair (RYA.I) Chief Executive Michael O’Leary hit out at fresh passenger taxes as “the equivalent of latter-day highwaymen”.

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