South Korean airlines face serious challenges to their operation as the spread of a new deadly epidemic has led to a voluntary cutback or shutdown of services to China, adding to woes from Korea’s ongoing travel boycott to Japan.
Out of the 100 flights to mainland China run by eight local carriers, 41 have been temporarily closed as of Monday. Operation of 24 flights have been scaled back, including 15 from Korean Air Lines, eight from Asiana Airlines and one from Air Busan.
The move comes after the Korean government barred the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus, effective Tuesday. Jeju Island, a southern resort island, suspended its visa-waiver program for Chinese tourists.
Korean Air, the country’s largest flag carrier, announced it would suspend eight flights to China and significantly cut operations on 15 routes.
Another full-service carrier Asiana shut down four flights and trimmed services on eight. Its China reliance is the heaviest among domestic airlines, with Chinese flights accounting for 19 percent of its total revenue as of late September.
Budget carriers went further.
Air Seoul, Eastar Jet and Jin Air shut down all of their flights to and from mainland China. Air Busan suspended seven of its nine Chinese routes and reduced services on one. T’Way Air halted five out of six flights and Jeju Air seven, nearly half of all its flights to China.
Korean airlines have already suffered from a sharp drop in their short-haul flights since the latter half of 2019 from Koreans` boycott against Japan and protests in Hong Kong. Yet they are now forced to stop service to China as many countries have banned the entry of Chinese to contain the spread of the deadly new virus. They are considering extending the cuts to Hong Kong and Macau as travel demand to neighboring cities has also sapped.
Industry observers say the impact from the latest outbreak could be heavier than in the 2003 SARS epidemic. As of Tuesday, the death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 425, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases worldwide. SARS, which lasted for about six months, infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774. Korea reported its 16th patient who flew in from Thailand.
The aviation industry is calling for government support as they expect the outbreak to have a long-term drag on travel demand.
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]