Middle East airlines have lost an estimated $100 million so far due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Vice President of Africa and Middle East Muhammad Ali Albakri at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of the world’s airlines, told reporters.
The revenue for Middle Eastern airlines is at significant risk if travel restrictions across Asia are extended, Albakri added, with ticket sales in the region expected to drop over the next few weeks. Middle East airline growth could halve this year if the virus impact continues or worsens, he said.
The coronavirus epidemic has created a “difficult period” for airlines and governments in the region should aim to support their airlines, Albakri added.
It is currently too early to tell if the epidemic will impact the important peak summer travel period for airlines, although Albakri noted that around 50 percent of Middle Eastern airline capacity is used for routes to and from Asia Pacific. These routes are under threat as airlines and countries implement travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.
On Lebanon, Albakri said that the IATA is working with the central bank to make sure non-Lebanese airlines are able to continue to repatriate revenue. He noted that revenue from non-Lebanese airlines is still flowing out of the country but is becoming difficult. Albakri “hopes” that the IATA will not have to list Lebanon as a country that blocks funds being repatriated.
He added the Government of Lebanon understand how vital air connectivity is to Lebanon.
Globally, airlines stand to lose around $1.5 billion this year, Albakri said, as the deadly coronavirus continues its spread around the world. Airlines, such as Emirates, have already begun to ask staff to take unpaid leave which is a demonstration of how hard the airline industry has been hit by the virus, he added.
The coronavirus first started spreading from Wuhan, China, earlier this year and has since infected nearly 90,000 people, with over 3,000 dead. The Middle East has been hit particularly hard as cases started spreading across the region as travelers returned from Iran, the second deadliest epicenter for the disease after China, with 54 reported dead.