Coronavirus disruption could cost African airlines $40 million in revenue this year, a global industry body said on Wednesday, a potentially devastating hit to often struggling airlines counting on lucrative Chinese routes to fund expansion.
Airlines around the world have suspended or modified flights after the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which began in mainland China late last year and has now spread to more than 60 countries around the world.
The global hit to the aviation industry is projected to be $29 billion this year — a 4,7 percent industry-wide drop in revenue per passenger kilometre, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said.
The blow to African airlines could be as much as $40 million, IATA’s special envoy to Africa, Raphael Kuuchi, said at an aviation conference in Addis Ababa.
IATA forecast in December that African airlines would make a loss of around $200 million this year, similar to 2019.
Tewolde GebreMariam, chief executive officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, said the virus had slashed passenger demand.
Ethiopian Airlines has faced criticism online for not cancelling flights to China like neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
“The air travel demand for Ethiopian Airlines has declined by 20 percent due to the corona,” Tewolde told Reuters.
“It is a big shock,” he told the conference.
On Tuesday, Kenya halted direct flights from Italy’s northern cities of Verona and Milan, which usually head to the Kenyan coast. Northern Italy has seen Europe’s biggest cluster of coronavirus cases.
Last month, Kenya Airways and RwandAir suspended all flights to and from China until further notice.
The World Health Organisation has advised countries against banning flights.
Senegal confirmed a second case of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in sub-Saharan Africa to three.
Meanwhile, the World Bank on Tuesday announced an initial $12 billion in immediate funds to assist countries grappling with the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus virus outbreak that has spread quickly from China to some 80 countries.
World Bank President David Malpass said there were still “many unknowns” about the fast-spreading virus and “much more” aid might be required, but he declined to elaborate.
The announcement underscored escalating concern about the economic and human impact of the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned of a global shortage of protective equipment to fight the disease as well as price gouging as the death toll from the respiratory illness mounted.
Also on Tuesday, the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates in an emergency move to try to prevent a global recession, and finance officials from the G7 group of rich countries said they were ready to adopt fiscal and monetary measures where appropriate.