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New Delhi: Over 200,000 flights have now been cancelled or proactively removed from schedules to, from and within China due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), according to Cirium, a flight data aggregator.

The figure – which accounts for over two-thirds of China’s originally scheduled flights – dates from when the authorities restricted travel in and out of Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on January 23 to February 18 this year.

With more than 2,200 deaths from the novel virus and more fresh cases of outbreak, airlines are increasingly cancelling flights.

According to the release, a total of 99,254 flights have not flown against the adjusted schedule between January 23 and February 18 of which domestic flights accounting for 89% of the total figure.

However, Cirium data shows more international carriers are cancelling flights, particularly those linking to Greater China.

Domestic flights affected within China

Between January 23 and January 28, 9,807 domestic flights were not flown. Ever since, in an attempt to contain the outbreak, an increasing number of flight services have been affected. Further, according to Cirium’s analysis, airlines are proactively removing flights from their future schedules.

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Richard Evans, senior consultant at Ascend by Cirium, said: “IATA had originally predicted global airline capacity to grow by 4.7% in 2020, but in the current uncertain dynamic, are issuing revised guidance which indicates stagnation or slight contraction of the global market in 2020.”

Data representation of affected international flights to and from China

For the first eight weeks of the year, Cirium’s schedules data shows a drop of 0.9% in the global capacity compared to 2019. The next two weeks showing a continuing fall of around 10% year-on-year, led by Chinese airlines having removed over 60% of their scheduled flights.

“We are also now seeing impact outside of China. Countries with the biggest exposure to outbound Chinese leisure travellers, such as Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia have seen schedules cut by 70% or more on routes to China and are starting to see further reductions on non-Chinese routes. This will inevitably be hurting sectors focused on the tourist economy, including airlines.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to have short to medium-term effect on demand, airport and airlines finances. While it is impossible to anticipate the IATA forecast for traffic, revenues and costs, it is likely that a drop will be seen which may have a knock-on effect on global GDP growth.

Essentially, the number of flights actually flown to, from and within China are down over 80% against 2019 when compared to the schedule that was originally planned for February this year. Hong Kong is also seeing large schedule cuts, with flights flown down over 60% this week.

Three most impacted airlines between January 23 and February 18 by percentage of flights are Lucky Air with 48.8% of flights not flown accounting for 2,371 flights out of a scheduled 4,857; followed by China Southern Airlines, with 46.2% of flights not flown accounting for 20,441 out of 44,274 flights; and Xiamen Airlines, with 43.8% of flights not flown, accounting for 6,341 flights out of the 14,495 scheduled.

And the most heavily affected airport is the epicentre of the outbreak, Wuhan Tianhe International Airport where 94% of outbound and inbound flights have been cancelled, said the release.

Over 200,000 flights have now been cancelled or proactively removed from schedules to, from and within China due to COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Rahul Oberai, managing firector, APAC at Cirium, said: “It’s difficult to comment on the anticipated recovery of the aviation industry off the back of the outbreak, as the number of cases is still increasing currently and as the data shows more airlines are cancelling and removing flights from schedules.”

“The first step is to see a clear and sustained fall in the number of new COVID-19 cases, however, we do expect a strong recovery once the virus is successfully combatted. The SARS experience in 2003 showed us that within six months post-outbreak, passenger traffic growth had recovered and 2004 saw double-digit growth,” Oberai added.

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