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More countries suspend flights to S. Korea over coronavirus concerns

All News 11:32 March 03, 2020

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- An increasing number of countries are suspending flights to South Korea, government officials said Tuesday, amid rising cases of the new coronavirus in the Asian country.

Mongolia and Israel were quick to suspend all of their flights to South Korea from late February over COVID-19 concerns. Russia suspended all flights to South Korea, except for the Incheon-Moscow route, from Sunday, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Vietnam, Turkey, Italy and the Czech Republic recently said they will stop flight services on routes to South Korea from Thursday, Hwang Seong-pil in charge of the issue at the ministry said over the phone.

"Through our ambassadors to the countries, the South Korean government is making efforts to persuade the governments of the countries to withdraw their decisions," he said.

This photo taken on March 3, 2020, shows a departure counter for the United States at the No. 2 terminal of Incheon International Airport in Incheon, just west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

But he said there could be more countries taking similar steps unless the coronavirus is contained.

Further suspensions of flights to South Korea, Asia's fourth-biggest economy, would deal a bigger blow to local airlines already facing a sharp decline in air travel demand both on domestic and international routes amid virus woes, analysts said.

"An extended virus outbreak would sharply cut into South Korean carriers' bottom lines for the first quarter and further deepen their losses," Choi Go-woon, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities Co., said.

As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, 87 countries and regions have imposed entry bans or quarantine measures against people from South Korea, which has so far reported 4,812 confirmed cases of the novel virus and 28 deaths.

The country's two full-service carriers -- Korean Air Lines Co. and Asiana Airlines Inc. -- and seven low-cost carriers -- Jeju Air, Jin Air, Air Busan Co., Air Seoul Inc., Eastar Jet, T'way and Fly Gangwon -- began to suspend or reduce flights on their routes due to lower demand from late January.

Korean Air plans to temporarily reduce the number of flights on routes from Incheon to San Francisco, Honolulu and Boston from March 7-28 to minimize the impact of the deadly virus on its business.

The flight cuts to the United States are adding to woes at the company, which has already suspended some of its flights on Chinese and Southeast Asian routes since early February.

Given it earns 30 percent of its overall sales from the U.S. routes, Korean Air appears to be on track to report poor earnings results in the first half of 2020. Its net losses deepened to 624.87 billion won (US$529 million) in 2019 from 185.65 billion won in 2018.

Asiana Airlines said it will halt more flights on Asian routes until mid-April. Its flights to China fell to 53 on 14 routes from 204 on 26 routes.

As part of self-rescue measures to weather the fallout from the virus, Asiana asked all 10,500 employees to take turns going on 10 days of unpaid leave starting Feb. 19 so the company can cut costs and avoid snowballing losses.

The company, whose net losses widened to 837.79 billion won in 2019 from 195.86 billion won a year ago, also plans to cut the wages of executives by up to 50 percent this month.

Low-cost carriers joined the two full-service carriers to deal with the virus outbreak.

Jeju Air, the country's biggest low-cost carrier, entered an emergency management system last week to cut costs and stay afloat.

Out of its 17 routes to mainland China, Jeju Air currently only operates the Incheon-Weihai route. Its flights to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan are not in service.

All executives at Air Seoul returned a portion of their salaries -- as much as 30 percent -- last month and won't accept salaries in March. Its employees will take paid leave for the whole of this month and receive salaries worth 70 percent of their regular wages.

Jin Air, a low-cost carrier unit of Korean Air Lines Co., and Air Busan have suspended all of their flights to China until the end of March. Jin Air asked its cabin crew members to take one-month paid leave at salaries worth 70 percent of regular pay from March to May.

Eastar Jet paid 40 percent of its normal salaries to executives and employees last month.

This photo taken on March 2, 2020, shows airplanes parked at Incheon International Airport as the spreading coronavirus outbreak affects air travel demand. (Yonhap)


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