Finnair expects bigger hit from Covid-19 than SARS

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HELSINKI (March 5) Finnair has had to cancel 1,100 flights because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, which it expects will have a bigger impact on its business than SARS.

"We already know that the coronavirus will affect Finnair significantly and that its impact will be greater than that of SARS was," Manner told a news conference in Helsinki.

On Wednesday, Finnair said it would open talks with unions next week about temporary staff layoffs and that it would cancel flights to mainland China, South Korea and Milan because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Manner said it looked very likely that global air traffic would diminish this year due to coronavirus.

Finnair alone has had to cancel 1,100 flights because of the outbreak so far, most of them long distance ones on its key Asian routes, a company spokesperson said.

During the height of the SARS outbreak in April 2003, passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

But the numbers of air traffic passengers were significantly lower 17 years ago, suggesting the coronavirus impact could easily become greater in absolute terms.

In 2003, 6.8 million passengers from China travelled on international flights, and that number has grown by close to 10 times to 63.7 million in 2018, according to data from the country's aviation authority.

Global airline industry revenues more than doubled to US$838 billion in 2019 from just US$322 billion in 2003, according to IATA data.