Qantas axes almost all overseas flights as Covid-19 ends demand

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SYDNEY (March 17): Qantas Airways Ltd is cutting almost all overseas flights and more than half its domestic schedule as the coronavirus outbreak paralyses travel worldwide.

International capacity will be cut by about 90% until at least the end of May, the Australian airline said in a statement Tuesday. Domestic capacity will fall 60% over the same period.

Government travel bans, quarantines and a growing fear of becoming infected is bringing flying to a standstill across the globe -- and pushing many travel companies to the brink. Qantas said it had suffered a “precipitous decline in demand” and any rebound could be months away.

Qantas shares fell 5.3% to A$2.89 at 10:32 am in Sydney. The stock has lost 60% this year.

In the US, Delta Air Lines Inc is in talks to raise up to US$4 billion in new debt, and American Airlines Group Inc is in discussions to take on billions of dollars in new borrowings amid a broader dash for cash by airlines, according to people familiar with the matter.

The pandemic will bankrupt most airlines worldwide by the end of May unless governments and the industry take coordinated steps to avoid such a situation, Sydney-based consultancy CAPA Centre for Aviation warned Monday.

US planemaker Boeing Co has also asked the White House and Congressional officials for short-term aid for itself, suppliers and airlines, said people familiar with the matter.

The cuts at Qantas are the airline’s fourth round of reductions in less than a month, and represent the grounding of around 150 aircraft. The airline said that previously-announced cuts that are in place until mid-September are likely to be increased, depending on demand.

In the early days of the health crisis, Qantas considered its domestic business, the profit engine of the group, largely insulated from the outbreak. “Corporate travel bans and a general pullback from everyday activities” has led to a rapid decline in demand at home, too, the airline said Tuesday.