Much of the world celebrated the arrival of 2020 in anticipation of a positive year, particularly given the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in the previous December airlines worldwide were tipped to post a collective net profit of US$29.3 billion this year, up from a likely US$25.9 billion in 2019. Read More »
One of the causes for optimism was the signing of a “Phase One” trade deal between the U.S. and China, hoped to signal the end of a damaging tariff dispute between the two countries that had profoundly impacted the air freight market.
A truce between China and the U.S. on trade and the prospect of lower oil prices were forecast to increase the collective net profit at Asia-Pacific carriers by 22%, to US$6 billion in 2020, from US$4.9 billion in 2019. At the time, Orient Aviation associate editor and chief correspondent, Tom Ballantyne, warned “Black Swan” events could upend the forecast.
By mid-month there were signs a highly contagious virus that had emerged in China in late December was spreading beyond its Wuhan origins. What the world would come to know as COVID-19 was impacting the air travel market. In response, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government closed its border to the Mainland, except for entry points such as Hong Kong International Airport, the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, the Shenzhen Bay-Hong Kong crossing and Kai Tak Cruise and Ocean terminals. Visitors from China collapsed by 91% in January sucking the life out of Hong Kong’s tourism dependent economy.
The travel ban and lockdown in Wuhan started from late January. China encouraged its citizens to stay home, shut schools, government offices and factories among other facilities, and banned all unnecessary and non-essential public gatherings during the biggest holiday in the Asian calendar, Lunar New Year celebrations.
In a January 24 statement, the World Health Organisation (WHO), advised the screening of travellers at international airports and ports to contain the spread of the virus, but did not call for borders to be closed. “WHO advises against the application of any restrictions of international traffic based on the information currently available on this event,” it said.
There was outrage across the aviation community when Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed shortly after taking off for Kyiv from Tehran on January 8. There were no survivors among the 167 passengers and six crew members. Initially, Iran said the crash could have been caused by a fire in one of the engines of the aircraft or a mechanical issue on board. It quickly emerged the 737-800 UR-PSR was brought down by a surface-to-air missile launched by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.
In Taiwan, the staid aviation scene was about to be shaken up by the launch of full-service carrier, Starlux Airlines, a business with the added buzz of a founder, pilot K.W. Chang, who was ousted as chairman of his deceased father’s airline, EVA Air, by his siblings.