Asia-Pacific airlines could lose $27.8 billion to coronavirus – IATA

PARIS, France (UPDATED) – Airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose a combined $27.8 billion of revenue this year in the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Thursday, February 20.

The estimate is based on projections of a 13% full-year decline in passenger demand, mostly in China, the trade body said. (READ: Cebu Pacific lowers fares as coronavirus hits tourism)

"This will be a very tough year for airlines," IATA chief executive officer Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement. "Stopping the spread of the virus is the top priority."

IATA said its estimate assumed that COVID-19 behaved like the SARS outbreak nearly two decades ago, which was "characterized by a six-month period with a sharp decline followed by an equally quick recovery."

This will be the first time since the 2008-2009 financial crisis that demand for air travel has declined, De Juniac said. (READ: Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific asks all staff to take unpaid leave)

Airlines in China's domestic market alone are estimated to lose around $12.8 billion in revenues.

Carriers outside the Asia-Pacific region are seen suffering $1.5 billion in losses.

This brings worldwide airline revenue lost to the virus to a projected $29.3 billion, IATA said. (READ: Hong Kong Airlines to lay off 400 staff as novel coronavirus hits city)

However, if the virus spreads more widely to Asia-Pacific markets, then the impact on airlines from other regions would be larger, IATA warned. (READ: Boeing sounds alarm about virus impact on aviation)

IATA had previously estimated Asia-Pacific airlines to register growth of 4.8% this year, but they are now on course instead for a contraction of 8.2%, it said.

But there are some factors potentially softening the blow, IATA said.

"Governments will use fiscal and monetary policy to try to offset the adverse economic impacts. Some relief may be seen in lower fuel prices for some airlines, depending on how fuel costs have been hedged," it said.

It was therefore difficult to predict by how much exactly lost revenue would weigh on profits.

But airlines are already taking "difficult decisions" to cut capacity, or even routes, IATA said. (READ: Qantas cuts flights to Asia as coronavirus hits profits– Rappler.com