2019-nCoV outbreak: hard landing for aviation industry

By Thi Ha, Anh Tu   February 9, 2020 | 06:25 pm PT
2019-nCoV outbreak: hard landing for aviation industry
Specialists sanitize an aircraft at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on February 4, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
Flights with no passengers, infection dangers and plummeting earnings for pilots, people fearful of traveling – Vietnam’s aviation industry is hurting badly.

For the first time in his career this week, flight captain Hoang operated two flights with no passengers.

"Every time I fly an empty jet, the airline has to bear a cost of at least VND500-700 million ($21,500-30,100)."

Hoang, who has been working for an airline for five years now, estimated that flight crew working hours have fallen by half after the deadly novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. This means that their salary has dropped while they also face the risk being infected when carrying passengers.

Two flight crews of Vietnam Airlines were recently quarantined for 14 days after carrying an infected Chinese passenger on a flight from Zhengzhou City in China to Nha Trang Town in central Vietnam.

Industry insiders say that the nCoV outbreak could have a severe impact on aviation growth this year as tourists from China, where the outbreak has originated, accounted for 32 percent of Vietnam’s travel market last year.

Airway agents are reporting dwindling number of customers. Thu, a salesperson in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District, estimated that the number of customers have fallen several times over the same period last year.

"Ticket sales to Australia, China, Japan and South Korea have plummeted. People are also scrapping plans to local destinations like Da Nang, Hanoi, Da Lat and Nha Trang," she said.

Hoa, who runs a travel agency in Saigon’s Go Vap District, says many groups of 3-5 tourists have canceled their plans to visit Hanoi pagodas, a tradition after the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday.

"If the situation persists the business could be in a crisis this summer and might have to cut down staff," she said.

Vietnam Airlines CEO Duong Tri Thanh said that the airline was taking a hit from the cancellation of 30 Vietnam-China flights everyday, as also limited travel between Vietnam and Macau and Hong Kong.

The national flag carrier also has to bear the additional cost of sanitizing its aircraft to contain nCoV spread, he noted.

A senior Jetstar Pacific official who wished to remain unnamed said that revenue from both international and domestic flights has fallen. "Airlines leaders have been getting together these days to come up with solutions to improve business. We are asking for more support from the government."

Do Xuan Quang, deputy director of budget carrier Vietjet Air, called the outbreak "a disaster for the aviation industry."

Local airports have reported falling figures. The number of passengers from and to the Cam Ranh International Airport near Nha Trang and the Da Nang International Airport, both in central Vietnam, have dropped by 30-50 percent year-on-year, according to the Airports Corporation of Vietnam (ACV).

The ACV also has to bear the costs for sanitizing 24 airports.

In 2003, after the SARS epidemic, the growth in the number of air passengers fell by 1.7 percentage points.

The Vietnamese aviation industry, which has being flying high for several years now, has been brought low by the ongoing nCoV epidemic. Last year, Vietnamese airports served near 116 million passengers, up 12 percent from 2018, according to the ACV.

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