Japan Correspondent

TOKYO, Japan — With no end in sight to the global coronavirus pandemic, both of Japan’s major airlines the week of March 23 announced additional reductions to their international flights, with analysts and the industry warning that the broader crisis appears likely to drag on.

The implications for the global travel industry are stark and will be felt particularly hard in regions that rely heavily on tourism.

And while airlines have stated that they are positioned to resume flights soon after the pandemic has run its course, others are not so sure.

The Airbus A350-900 is one of JAL’s in its current grounded fleet that may have had flights reduced from.

Photo courtesy of Japan Airlines

Geoffrey Tudor, a Tokyo-based principal analyst for Japan Aviation Management Research, cautioned that getting airlines airborne once again immediately after the crisis has passed might not be as straightforward as many imagine.

“It will vary between airlines, of course, but a lot of aircraft have been taken out of commission and it will take time to put them back into service,” he said. “They will require maintenance and checks before they can fly and it will be the same for ground infrastructure.

“A lot of staff have been laid off or sent home and it will also take time to reintroduce those personnel and get more trained, so that will be another headache,” Tudor said.

On March 24, Asiana Airlines, the second-largest carrier in South Korea, announced that all of its 10,500 staff would take 15 days of unpaid leave in April. The airline saw the number of passengers on its international routes collapse by 85% in February, while reservations in April are 90% down on the same month last year.

Tudor said he believes low-cost carriers — many of which fly routes for leisure travelers to the Pacific islands — will find it harder to get up and running than the larger, more established airlines.

“I think a lot of the smaller ones might have bigger problems than companies like (Japan Airlines) or All Nippon Airways, which are probably better placed to bounce back,” he said.

The larger airlines have far more extensive financial resources, he said. While they are often allied with budget carriers, it is likely they will prioritize maintenance and ground facilities for their own operations.

Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region are warning that losses from the crisis are almost certain to be significantly worse than initially anticipated and are calling for additional government support for the industry.

The International Air Transport Association predicted on March 5 that the industry would lose as much as $113 billion in revenue, a figure that it revised to $252 billion on March 24. That figure is 44% below the figure for 2019.

“The airline industry faces its gravest crisis,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of IATA. “Within a matter of a few weeks, our previous worst-case scenario is looking better than our latest estimates. But without immediate government relief measures, there will not be an industry left standing.

“Airlines need $200 billion in liquidity support simply to make it through,” he said. “Some governments have already stepped forward, but many more need to follow suit.” mbj