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  • Last Update : 11:36 pm

Coronavirus: Aviation business hit hard, number of air travellers in sharp decline

  • Published at 11:02 am March 12th, 2020
File photo of a Biman plane Courtesy

Worldwide airlines risk up to $113b revenue loss, more than one-third drop in number of air passengers in Bangladesh   

Major airlines that operate flights from and to Bangladesh are being forced to revise their services, with many cancelling flights due to the ongoing worldwide coronavirus crisis.

Amid growing fears over the spread of the deadly virus that has led to many countries imposing indefinite entry exit bans, the number of air travellers has drastically dropped around the world, thus also affecting the aviation sector in Bangladesh.

Airlines could lose from $63 billion to $113 billion in revenue in passenger traffic globally in 2020 owing to the spread of coronavirus, IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce said at a media briefing in Singapore on March 5.

The last time the aviation industry faced a revenue shock of this extent was in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

The $63 billion figure is for a scenario where the disease is contained whereas the $113 billion estimate is for a scenario with a broader spread of the disease, Pearce added.

This steep fall caused by Covid-19 will translate to 11%-19% of global passenger revenue loss to the industry.

While talking to Dhaka Tribune, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) President Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said: "As per the present situation this outbreak will have a long term impact on the aviation sector. The coronavirus crisis is affecting people from all walks of life, especially migrant workers, international travellers and expatriates. 

File photo of workers returning to Bangladesh from various countries | Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

"Due to this outbreak, businesses are failing to provide raw materials for production, our overall revenue is declining and ongoing development projects are facing instability." 

"The major concern for Bangladesh is that our businesses are largely dependent on trade with China. Many countries have also cancelled their air permits for Bangladesh. Bangladesh's aviation industry is now in a danger zone," he added.

He said: "Airlines will face huge losses if they have to cancel flights like this and as a result people will lose their jobs," he feared.

According to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) sources, in 2018, around 20,000 travellers used the country's biggest international airport each day. The number increased significantly in 2019. But in February this year the number dropped down to around 12,000.  

Suspension of flights continues

According to CAAB, Bangladesh has altogether seven domestic airports and three international airports which are also used for domestic flights.

Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) told Dhaka Tribune that most airlines had to cancel their flights due to a lack of passengers following the Covid-19 crisis.

"Ticket sales of at least 25 airlines of the total 28 international air carriers that operate in Bangladesh have dropped," he added.

He said: "Qatar Airlines is not taking any passengers for Doha, but is allowing passengers to travel to other countries from Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Himalaya Airlines has dropped 14 of their 30 flights.

"Flights to Kuwait and northern China have totally collapsed. However, seven flights are operating between Bangladesh and eastern China every week.”

File photo: A special flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines brought back 316 Bangladeshi citizens stranded in Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak on February 1, 2020 | Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Moreover, Bangladesh Biman Airlines has had to temporarily suspend all flights to Qatar after the Gulf state banned travellers from Bangladesh.

Biman Managing director Md Mokabbir Hossain said 74 out of 142 flights of 10 routes were cancelled due to a passenger crisis amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

The routes are Dhaka to Kolkata, Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuwait, Jeddah, Medina, Kuala Lumpur, and Kathmandu.

On the other hand, US-Bangla Airlines, which operates eight flights on international routes, is also witnessing a massive loss in business as now on average only 50% of all the seats get booked because of the global epidemic.

"We are observing the situation. We do not know how to overcome this situation which is now out of control," said US-Bangla Airlines General Manager (Media) Kamrul Islam.

"In recent times the number of passengers flying to China, Bangkok, Singapore and Kolkata from here has dropped down to more than half, said Kamrul.

Echoing the same, Novoair Airlines Senior Manager (marketing, sales) A K M Mahfuzul Alam said that a large number of people had cancelled their ticket bookings due to fear of the virus.

"The situation is getting alarming as flights to Qatar, Kuwait, Nepal and Medina have already been suspended. And if this continues, most of us will face serious difficulties in paying the salaries of our employees," he added.

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