Over 200,000 flights cancelled as China travel ban continues

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

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, 2020.

As the virus transmission and infection rates rise, airlines are increasingly cancelling flights.

A total of 99,254 flights have not flown against the adjusted schedule between January 23 and February 18 which domestic flights accounting for 89 per cent of that figure. However, Cirium data shows more international carriers are cancelling flights, particularly those linking to Greater China.

Between January 23 to 28, the number of flights not flown totalled 9,807 with only domestic services affected at that stage. The unprecedented increase since then highlights the speed at which the airlines have acted to help try and contain the outbreak.

As well as flights being cancelled or not flown, Cirium’s analysis also shows airlines proactively removing flights from their future schedules.

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

“For the first eight weeks of the year, Cirium’s schedules data shows that global capacity fell by 0.9 per cent compared to 2019. The next two weeks showing a continuing fall of around 10 per cent year-on-year, led by Chinese airlines having removed over 60 per cent 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 per cent 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.”

Recently, airlines in the US have followed the example of UK carriers and started cancelling flights. American Airlines has now cancelled 60 per cent of its scheduled flights in and out of China, United Airlines has cancelled 19 per cent and Delta has cancelled 18 per cent of scheduled flights, between January 23 and February 18.

“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,” Rahul Oberai, managing director, Asia Pacific at Cirium said.

“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.”