Mideast airlines out $7.2 billion so far as flights scrapped

Airlines have already lost more than $7 billion as the coronavirus tears through the Middle East.

al-monitor General view of Najaf airport hall empty, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq Feb. 26, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani.

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air travel, coronavirus, flight, airports, pandemic, travel, airlines

Mar 19, 2020

Due to a devastating decline in demand for flights amid the fast-spreading coronavirus, airlines in the Middle East have already lost more than $7 billion in revenue, the largest industry body said Thursday. 

The International Air Transport Association, which represents some 290 airlines in 120 countries, says “Revenues are plummeting — outstripping the scope of even the most drastic cost containment measures.”

“With average cash reserves of approximately two months in the region, airlines are facing a liquidity and existential crisis,” the group said in a statement. “Support measures are urgently needed.”

Since the end of January, more than 16,000 passenger flights have been canceled in the Middle East, causing losses of $7.2 billion in revenue as of March 11, the body said. The group estimates up to $200 billion in emergency aid for the aviation industry will be needed globally. 

As the coronavirus makes its way through the Middle East, the decrease in air travel has forced regional airlines to make difficult decisions. The Dubai-based United Arab Emirates has asked its pilots and cabin crew to take unpaid leave, and state-owned Oman Air has suspended flights to Egypt and Bahrain until further notice. On Wednesday, Qatar Airways laid off roughly 200 Filipino employees in Doha.

The coronavirus has prompted governments across the Middle East to seal off borders and close down airports. On March 18, Israel announced foreigners would no longer be allowed into the country, even those who could self-quarantine. The country is on partial lockdown with residents ordered to stay indoors unless it is “absolutely necessary” to leave.

For the next two weeks, residents of the United Arab Emirates currently outside of the country are barred from returning. The Gulf country, which has recorded 113 cases of the coronavirus, has also banned its citizens from traveling abroad until further notice. 

Egypt announced earlier in the week it would suspend all flights into and out of the country's airports through the end of the month, and during that time hotels and tourist attractions will be sanitized. Flights are also suspended in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco.

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