Coronavirus outbreak could cost airlines $113 billion

The figure is more than three times what an industry group initially estimated.

March 5, 2020, 12:29 PM

The airline industry could take a hit of up to $113 billion -- more than three times worse the initial assessment --- as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, according to an industry group.

The International Air Transport Association issued an updated analysis of the potential financial impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry Thursday, forecasting that revenue loss could be $113 billion in a worst-case scenario involving broader spread of the virus.

A nearly empty hall in the Hongqiao International Airport in Shanghai, March 5, 2020, as the coronavirus epidemic slows airline traffic.
Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Even in a more optimistic scenario where COVID-19 is contained, the group says it now sees revenue losses of at least $63 billion.

Previously, the same group estimated the cost to the airline industry as a result of the outbreak would be $29.3 billion in a Feb. 20 forecast.

An electronic flight departure board displays 'cancelled' status's for all Flybe flights leaving Exeter Airport in Exeter, south-west England, March 5, 2020, following the news that the airline had collapsed into bankruptcy.
Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images

"The turn of events as a result of COVID-19 is almost without precedent," Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO, said in a statement. "In little over two months, the industry’s prospects in much of the world have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. It is unclear how the virus will develop, but whether we see the impact contained to a few markets and a $63 billion revenue loss, or a broader impact leading to a $113 billion loss of revenue, this is a crisis."

De Juniac noted that many airlines are cutting capacity and "taking emergency measures" to slash costs. He called on governments to take action.

"Airlines are doing their best to stay afloat as they perform the vital task of linking the world’s economies," he said. "As governments look to stimulus measures, the airline industry will need consideration for relief on taxes, charges and slot allocation."

"These are extraordinary times," de Juniac added.

PHOTO: A flight attendant on a near-empty Myanmar National airlines flight from Yangon to Suvarnabhumi International airport, March 4, 2020 during  the flight.
A flight attendant on a near-empty Myanmar National airlines flight from Yangon to Suvarnabhumi International airport, March 4, 2020 during the flight.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

On the same day the IATA released its somber report, U.K. budget carrier Flybe announced it has entered bankruptcy proceedings.

A message on its website told customers who were flying with Flybe to not travel to the airport and that the company “is unfortunately not able to arrange alternative flights for passengers.”

Many major U.S. carriers including Delta, United and American have suspended or canceled flights to the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong for weeks amid the outbreak. The suspensions soon extended to South Korea, and many carriers also announced they were issuing travel waivers for elsewhere.

On Wednesday, some airlines also announced they were also cutting back on domestic routes as the virus continues to spread.

Citing a decline in demand stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, United Airlines announced Wednesday it was reducing its international schedule by 20% and its domestic schedules in the U.S. and Canada by 10%. JetBlue also announced Wednesday that it will cut capacity by 5% in the near term due to coronavirus' impact on demand.

While the coronavirus outbreak has already upended the entire travel industry, experts have previously said that should the outbreak be contained, they expect a recovery in the travel sector to be quick.

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