Coronavirus: Hong Kong airport records its third worst month ever amid travel restrictions in February

Danny Lee

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) recorded its third worst month ever, in February 2020, since its opening in 1998, caused by the first full month of damage on air travel triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Data from the Civil Aviation Department showed 1.88 million passengers flew in and out of the city last month, down 68 per cent compared to February 2019. The record was only beaten by the period between April and June 2003 during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis.

In April 2003, year-on-year air traffic fell by 69 per cent to 892,000, and by May some 556,000 people took flight, a reduction of four-fifths. In June 2003, the year-on-year air traffic fell by 56 per cent.

The latest provisional air traffic data saw the number of flight take-off and landing fall to 18,005, down 44.5 per cent year on year.

Amid an extended factory shutdown in mainland China after Lunar New Year, the airport – the world’s busiest cargo hub – also saw an 8.7 per cent reduction in the amount of cargo handled, at 246,000 tonnes.

The airport’s year-on-year traffic in February fell 68 per cent amid the coronavirus epidemic. Photo: Felix Wong

The World Health Organisation on March 11 declared the outbreak a pandemic, while more than 140,000 confirmed infections have been reported globally, including more than 60,000 cases in a total of 120 countries or areas outside mainland China as of 3pm on Saturday.

According to the WHO, at least 72 countries or areas have reported locally transmitted cases. Large-scale outbreaks with active community transmission are occurring in Korea, Italy, and Iran.

The Hong Kong government on Friday announced mandatory quarantine for all arrivals from the 26 European member nations of the Schengen border-free travel region, which has a combined population of more than 420 million, starting next Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump has also announced the closure of his country’s borders for the people of the Schengen region for a month.

The pandemic and its containment measures across the world have forced major airlines to appeal to respective governments for relief as they faced ticket-refund requests amid near-zero new bookings.

On Friday, US carriers sought unspecified government support from Washington, while Europe approved state-aid to rescue the continent’s stricken airlines.

Hong Kong airport suffers worst January in five years amid protests, coronavirus

Lufthansa Group warned two-thirds of its 800 planes would be grounded in the coming days while Britain’s national airline said the coronavirus situation “was a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known”, superseding 9/11, Sars, and the 2008-9 global financial crisis.

British Airways CEO Alex Cruz said in an internal memo on Friday jobs would have to be cut as the airline would be “parking aircraft in a way we never have before”.

Delta Air Lines told staff it would reduce its flying schedules by two-fifths, its largest reduction in history, resulting in at least 300 parked planes.

The coronavirus outbreak and its containment measures across the world have forced major airlines to appeal to respective governments for relief. Photo: Sam Tsang

Ailing budget carrier Norwegian said it would lay-off around half of its staff temporarily.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing the bulk of airlines globally, on Thursday warned of the “extreme pressure” facing the industry and urged state-backed financial aid, including reduction of infrastructure costs and taxes.

Before the US border shutdown on European air travel, the IATA last week said the public health crisis could see US$113 billion of airline passenger revenue disappear.

China’s aviation regulator also said last Thursday its airlines posted a combined record loss of 20.96 billion yuan (US$3 billion) as February passenger traffic collapsed 84.5 per cent year-on-year to 8.34 million, reflecting the immense strain on its economy.

Guangzhou Airport, near Hong Kong, said February passenger traffic dropped 83 per cent to 966,000 from the same time last year.

Cathay Pacific on Wednesday warned of “substantial losses” in the first half of 2020 after it reported a surprise HK$344 million profit in the final half of 2019. The airline said it could not rule out job cuts.

Hong Kong’s flagship airline has seen its year-on-year daily passenger volumes in early March collapse from 106,000 travellers a day to an average of 20,000, amid warnings the figure could worsen further.

The airport authority is expected to release the confirmed February figures on Monday.

This article Coronavirus: Hong Kong airport records its third worst month ever amid travel restrictions in February first appeared on South China Morning Post

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