Global Airlines Slash Almost All Flights As Coronavirus Spreads

 

An airport cleaning staff, wearing a respiratory mask (C), controls baskets at Rome’s Fiumicino international airport March 13, 2020. – Rome’s Ciampino airport will shut to passenger flights from March 13, authorities said, with a Terminal T1 also closing at the city’s main Fiumicino facility next week as airlines slash flights to Italy over the coronavirus outbreak. Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

 

Major world airlines on Monday axed almost all flights on a temporary basis as the worsening coronavirus crisis sparks travel bans, ravages demand and sends shares into freefall, triggering pleas to help carriers survive.

IAG, owner of British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia, announced it would slash flight capacity by 75 percent during April and May owing to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The London-based carrier’s share price crashed nearly 27 percent in mid-afternoon deals.

Other airlines tumbled, with Germany’s Lufthansa erasing almost 11 percent in value and Air France wiping out 17 percent on similar announcements.

Britain’s Virgin Atlantic added that it has decided to park 75 percent of its total fleet — and in April this will rise as high as 85 percent.

Virgin has reportedly called upon the UK government to inject emergency support totalling 7.5 billion pounds ($9.2 billion, 8.3 billion euros) to help keep Britain’s aviation industry flying.

In Germany, Lufthansa has been forced to scrap around two thirds of its flights in coming weeks as several countries including the United States ban travellers from Europe.

– ‘Deteriorating at pace’ –

“Last week saw a rapid acceleration of the impact of COVID-19 on global aviation and tourism,” Virgin Atlantic warned in a statement.

“The situation is deteriorating at pace and the airline has seen several days of negative bookings, driven by a huge volume of cancellations as customers choose to stay at home.”

British no-frills carrier EasyJet warned it may have to ground “the majority” of its fleet, urging governments across Europe to help their airlines maintain access to liquidity.

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren added: “European aviation faces a precarious future and it is clear that coordinated government backing will be required to ensure the industry survives and is able to continue to operate when the crisis is over.”

Irish budget carrier Ryanair meanwhile did not rule out a full grounding as it unveiled stinging flight cutbacks.

As part of its drastic action, IAG said it was “cutting non-essential and non-cyber related IT spend, freezing recruitment and discretionary spending, implementing voluntary leave options, temporarily suspending employment contracts and reducing working hours”.

IAG added that a management shake-up had been put on hold, noting that Willie Walsh would remain as chief executive.

Walsh had been due to step down on March 26, to be replaced by Iberia CEO Luis Gallego.

Air France will meanwhile slash flight capacity by 70-90 percent over the next two months, while Austrian Airlines will suspend all flights from Thursday, and Finnair is cutting 90 percent of capacity until the situation improves.

The German government on Monday said it is planning to shield companies from going under because of the pandemic, by suspending legal obligations for firms facing acute liquidity problems to file for bankruptcy.

German tourism and hotel group TUI said it was applying for state aid to keep it afloat, as it suspended the “majority” of its operations.

– ‘This is not 2008’ –

Back in London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled that the government would examine help for affected businesses, not just airlines, via Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) — which is Britain’s tax authority.

“HMRC is ready to help all businesses including airlines experiencing temporary financial difficulties due to coronavirus,” Johnson’s spokesman told AFP.

Stephen Innes, markets strategist at AxiCorp, drew a contrast with the global financial crisis which sparked bank bailouts.

However, as G7 finance ministers prepare to discuss the crisis later Monday, Innes argued that airlines were not the only strategic companies calling for assistance this time.

“This is not 2008. Back then it was the banks, this time the banks’ balance sheets are fine,” Innes said.

“But this is a global economic crisis which needs swap lines to airline companies, oil companies and retailers .

“Airlines might be at the top of the list for directed fiscal help, but virtually every global industry is facing pressure without a government bailout,” he added.

– US cutbacks –

US airlines have also announced drastic reductions in flights after President Donald Trump’s administration banned foreign travellers arriving from Europe.

United Airlines said it would announce a cut in capacity of around 50 percent for April and May, as the United States ramps up restrictions to try and contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“We also now expect these deep cuts to extend into the summer travel period,” said United chief executive Oscar Munoz in a letter to employees published Sunday.

American Airlines said it would reduce all international capacity by 75 percent, while competitors Delta and Southwest Airlines plan to strip back flights.

AFP

Italian Taken Hostage In Burkina Faso Returns To Rome

Italian Luca Tacchetto (L) and Canadian Edith Blais (R) are greeted by officials as they arrive at the airport in Bamako on March 14, 2020, after their release by UN peacekeepers. – A Canadian woman and her Italian partner kidnapped in Burkina Faso in 2018 have been found alive in the northwest of Mali by UN peacekeepers, diplomatic and UN sources said on March 14. MICHELE CATTANI / AFP.

 

An Italian who was taken hostage with a Canadian woman in Burkina Faso in 2018 has returned to Rome, after the pair emerged safe in Mali, the Italian foreign ministry said.

A Mali airport source had earlier told AFP that the couple, Italy’s Luca Tacchetto and Canada’s Edith Blais, had left the capital Bamako on a special flight.

A Canadian embassy source in Mali said arrangements had been made for them to return to their respective countries.

“Luca Tacchetto landed (Saturday) night at (Rome’s) Ciampino airport,” the Italian foreign ministry said, without saying how the two ended up in Mali.

Diplomatic and UN sources said the pair had been found in good health in the northwest of Mali on Friday.

They were located in the vicinity of Kidal, about 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) northeast of Bamako. Officials in Mali said they had escaped.

Burkina Faso, which had been a safe destination for years, has been wracked by jihadist violence since 2015 and several foreigners have been kidnapped.

An Australian and a Romanian national still remain missing.

Mali has been struggling to quell an Islamist insurgency that erupted in the north in 2012 and has since claimed thousands of military and civilian lives.

AFP

FAAN Confirms Bush Fire At Owerri Airport, Says Flights Not Affected

 

A bush fire incident has been reported at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State.

The General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Henrietta Yakubu, announced this in a statement on Tuesday, noting that officers of the Air Rescue and Fire Fighting Services are on ground to handle the situation.

FAAN, however, explained that the incident did not affect flight operations as normal operations have continue unhindered.

It also assured passengers of its continued commitment to their safety, security and comfort.

Meanwhile, the airport authorities appealed to host communities around airports to desist from burning bushes.

According to them, such acts are capable of jeopardizing safety of flight operations because of the weather in the country.

Air Force Takes Over MMIA After Union Clash With Airport Security

File photo of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport

 

Men of the Nigerian Air Force have taken over the access gate of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos following a clash between aviation union officials and the security outfit of the concessionaire.

Union officials had taken over the access gate on Monday, claiming that the concessionaire’s contract had expired a year ago.

The unions believe that more revenue should accrue to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) than the N68 million the company delivers.

On the other hand, the concessionaire, I-cube admits that the contract had expired in February 2018, but it had been delivering the sum to FAAN since then and awaiting another fresh bid opening from the authority.

Libya Suspends Flights For Hours After Rocket Blast

FILES) A file photo taken on October 29, 2019, shows a view of the Libyan capital Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport. Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

 

Rocket fire targeted the Libyan capital’s sole functioning airport on Wednesday, dealing another setback to peace efforts a day before regional foreign ministers meet in Algeria to discuss the crisis.

Tripoli’s Mitiga airport was forced to suspend all flights for several hours after it was targeted by six Grad rockets, just nine days after it reopened following a truce.

The airport has been hit multiple times since the start of an offensive by forces led by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital from the Government of National Accord (GNA).

World powers have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to find a political solution to the grinding conflict, with neighbouring Algeria to become the latest country to host a meeting Thursday to discuss ways forward.

The Algerian foreign ministry said chief diplomats from Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali would meet in Algiers to advance “a political settlement to the crisis through an inclusive dialogue between all parties”.

Algeria, which has stayed neutral in the Libyan conflict, shares a border of almost 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) with its neighbour, rocked by violence since the 2011 toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi by NATO-backed insurgents.

The meeting comes after a summit last Sunday in Berlin, which saw world leaders commit to ending all foreign meddling in Libya and to upholding a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the conflict.

The two sides also agreed to form a military commission charged with finding ways to reach a long-term truce.

It should include five members each from the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli and from Haftar’s forces, which back a rival administration in Benghazi.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council urged the parties to reach a ceasefire deal paving the way for a political process aimed at ending the conflict in the North African country.

 ‘New violation’ 

Despite repeated appeals from the UN’s envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, Tripoli’s GNA-held airport has been the target of several air raids and rocket strikes since Haftar’s forces launched their offensive.

Located east of the capital, Mitiga is a former military airbase used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport was heavily damaged in fighting in 2014.

GNA forces spokesman Mohammed Gnunu branded the strikes as a “flagrant threat” to the safety of air traffic and a “new violation” of the most recent ceasefire.

Haftar’s forces, which accuse the GNA of using Mitiga for military purposes, say they target “Turkish drones” being launched from the airport to attack their troops in southern Tripoli.

The GNA has denied those accusations.

Turkey has backed the GNA, deploying troops to Libya since early January under a controversial November deal with the Tripoli-based administration.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected in the Algerian capital on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit also tied to the Libyan conflict.

Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas is also expected in Algiers Thursday, the Algerian foreign ministry said.

Algiers has hosted a string of foreign leaders and envoys for talks on the crisis, including Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the top diplomats of Egypt, Italy, Turkey and former colonial power France.

AFP

Man Slumps, Dies At Lagos International Airport

Muritala Muhammed International airport

 

A Nigerian passenger, Jude Oladapo, on Saturday slumped and died while undergoing boarding procedures at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

The spokesperson for the MMIA Police Command, Lagos, Joseph Alabi, confirmed the development to Channels Television on Sunday.

Mr Alabi said that the 44-year-old passenger was about boarding an Air France flight when he suddenly slumped after receiving news that his wife had died.

According to him, the incident happened at about 5.30 p.m. and the deceased was confirmed dead by Ajayi Olamide of the MMIA Medical Clinic.

Mr Alabi said that the corpse had been deposited at the Air Force Hospital Mortuary.

Meanwhile, Mr Alabi also dismissed claims that a Royal Air Maroc aircraft, with registration number CN-ROR was burgled while landing at the MMIA on October 11.

He said that the police had carried out investigation and confirmed that all necessary security landing procedures were observed.

“There is a standard procedure, which includes an escort vehicle following an aircraft that is landing, which will make it difficult for any invader to approach the aircraft.

“The aviation security officials confirmed that they arrived at the aircraft with its baggage cabin door already opened which might have been due to other factors,” Mr Alabi said.

Libya Suspends Flights After Deadly Fire Rocks Capital

FILES) In this file photo taken on April 08, 2019 Grounded air-planes sit on the tarmac at Mitiga International Airport in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

 

Flights at the Libyan capital’s sole functioning airport were suspended Thursday after deadly overnight rocket fire, a spokesman for the country’s unity government said.

Wednesday night’s rocket fire “killed a guard and wounded several security agents tasked with protecting the airport,” said Moustafa al-Mejii, spokesman for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

He blamed the attack on “the militias of (Khalifa) Haftar” whose forces launched an offensive on the Libyan capital in April.

Arrivals and departures at Mitiga airport were suspended as a result, Mejii said.

Located east of Tripoli, Mitiga is a former military airbase that has been used by civilian traffic since Tripoli international airport suffered severe damage during fighting in 2014.

Mitiga is in a zone under the control of forces loyal to the GNA and has often been targeted, leading to repeated suspensions of flights.

READ ALSO: Flights Suspended In Irish Airport After Fire Guts Runway

United Nations envoy Ghassan Salame, in a report to the UN Security Council last month, urged “authorities in Tripoli to cease using the (Mitiga) airport for military purposes and for the attacking forces to halt immediately their targeting of it.”

The GNA protested at what it said were “untruths” in the envoy’s report.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has encountered fierce resistance from pro-government forces in the battle for Tripoli.

A stalemate on the ground in the capital’s southern outskirts has led to a greater reliance on air strikes by both sides.

The fighting since April has killed 1,093 people and wounded 5,752 others, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 120,000 people have been displaced.

The LNA said Thursday its air force carried out a strike against an airfield in Zuwara, a town west of Tripoli, and destroyed two hangars allegedly used to house Turkish drones.

“The runway and terminals were spared” at the airfield, which is not open to commercial flights, LNA spokesman General Ahmed al-Mesmari wrote on Facebook.

The GNA, however, posted pictures of a huge crater and debris on the tarmac.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

AFP

Hundreds Of Protesters Gather At Hong Kong Airport

A man looks out from the departures area as protesters rally in arrivals against a controversial extradition bill at Hong Kong’s international airport on August 9, 2019. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists, some wearing face masks and helmets, staged a sit-in at Hong Kong’s airport on August 9 hoping to win support from international visitors for their movement.
Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Thousands of pro-democracy activists chanted for reform on Friday as they staged a sit-in at Hong Kong airport, hoping to win international support for their movement after two months of protests.

“No rioters, only tyranny,” the demonstrators chanted as they began a three-day action — the latest in a string of protests that have rocked the international financial hub.

Activists, some dressed in the movement’s signature black, sat on the floor in the airport’s arrivals hall and held up signs in Chinese and English condemning police violence.

“Save Hong Kong from tyranny and police brutality!” read one sign on a piece of cardboard.

They cheered loudly as activists overcame objections from airport staff and hung a long banner from the railings of the upper floor reading “LIBERATE HK. REVOLUTION NOW.”

The protests that began two months ago over a controversial bill to allow extradition to mainland China have now morphed into a broader movement demanding democratic reforms.

Protesters have staged increasingly inventive rallies across Hong Kong, and brought out supporters ranging from families to lawyers in a bid to show the broad backing for their demands.

But the demonstrations have also increasingly descended into violence, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters hurling bricks and bottles.

The airport sit-in, scheduled to run throughout the weekend, is the second time the demonstrators have brought their message to the busy travel hub, hoping to garner support from international arrivals.

‘Let them know the truth’

“Ask me about Hong Kong” read signs in different languages attached to the sleeves of some of the protesters.

“We want to tell the passengers what’s happening in Hong Kong, so we prepared these leaflets showing our five major demands,” said Charlotte Au, a 16-year-old student among the protesters.

“We hope to let them know the truth through our communication and gain their support,” she told AFP.

Protesters want to see the controversial extradition bill, which has been suspended, completely withdrawn, and are also seeking direct election of the city’s leader and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

“We want the government to withdraw the bill and set up an independent inquiry commission,” said another protester, who asked to be identified only by her surname Choi.

“I also want to be here to support those who were arrested because our goals are the same.”

The three-day airport rally was promoted online with a mock boarding pass reading “HK to freedom” and “warm pick-up to guests to HK”.

Passengers arriving at the airport appeared confused as they came into the hall to see the sit-in, with some stopping to take photos or look at leaflets being handed out by the demonstrators. Some offered protesters a thumbs-up as they chanted.

Clara Boudehen, visiting from France, said she was “very impressed” by the rally.

“Our democracy is not absolute, we have to fight for it… To see the population fight for democracy is very important,” she said.

 ‘Really peaceful’

Monica Yoon Hee Jung, who had just arrived from Korea, said she had been slightly nervous about her trip — several countries have issued or upgraded travel warnings for Hong Kong in recent days.

But she seemed reassured by the sit-in, which did not appear to have disrupted airport operations.

“When I see the rally here, it is really peaceful. They are not aggressive at all. I feel they are trying to show their real heart. Very genuine,” she said.

The airport sit-ins have not been authorised, but a previous demonstration at the transport hub passed off peacefully without disrupting flights.

Further protests are planned across Hong Kong over the weekend, with fears that new confrontations between police and demonstrators are possible.

Hundreds of people have been arrested in the unrest that has gripped the city since the protests began, and with little sign that authorities plan to meet protester demands, the crisis is expected to continue.

The weeks of demonstrations pose the biggest threat to Beijing’s authority since Hong Kong’s handover from the British in 1997.

And the protests have hit the city’s tourism industry, with international arrivals down and hotel bookings tanking, officials say.

AFP

More Than 100 Flights Cancelled As Hong Kong Goes On Strike

Passengers line up at airline counters at Hong Kong international airport on August 5, 2019.  PHOTO: Philip FONG / AFP

 

More than 100 flights were cancelled in Hong Kong on Monday morning with airport authorities warning passengers of potential disruption, as pro-democracy protesters kick off a city-wide strike. 

At least 105 flights were listed as cancelled on the airport’s departure page on Monday morning.

When contacted, an airport spokesman did not give any reason for the cancellations but said passengers should check to see if their flight was departing.

“The Airport Authority advises passengers to check with their airlines for the latest flight information, and to proceed to the airport only when their seats and flight time have been confirmed,” the airport said in a statement.

AFP

FAAN Reacts To Abuja Airport Fire Scare

 

The Federal Airport Authority Of Nigeria (FAAN) has explained the fire scare which occurred on Saturday afternoon at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.

Some passengers had panicked when the saw smoke in part of the airport terminal.

But FAAN said what the passengers saw was residue from the hydrant which was released by the automated fire detector and protection machine installed in the airport’s new terminal.

The Managing Director of FAAN, Mr Saleh Dunoma gave the explanations in Abuja after Channels Television visited the airport in response to a call from a worker in the airport.

Although the airport staff said he saw fire which scared some travellers in the afternoon, the FAAN boss maintained that there is nothing to be afraid of as what happened showed the efficacy of the newly installed fire detector and protection equipment at the airport.

FAAN’s General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Mrs Henrietta Yakubu, explained in a statement that the incident occurred in the equipment room of the new terminal at the airport at about 3 pm.

She explained that the building was designed with an in-built fire detection and protection system, which is activated when it senses high ambient temperatures and sprays fire extinguishing agent.

“The residue of powder sprayed by the system was seen in the cloud, there was no fire at all,” the statement read in part.

FAAN assured passengers and the general public that there was no cause for panic.

Dubai Airport Retains Top Global Spot For Fifth Year

A section of passengers at the Dubai International Airport. Credit: Reuters

 

Dubai International Airport said it retained its top global spot in 2018 after serving the largest number of passengers for the fifth year in a row despite falling short of its target.

Traffic at the major transit hub rose slightly to 89.15 million passengers, up just over 1.0 percent on the number who used the airport in 2017, it said in a statement.

Although the figure is a new record high, it missed on the 90.3 million passengers Dubai airport had projected for 2018.

Indians retained the top position with 12.28 million passengers last year and Saudis came in second with 6.47 million travellers, overtaking Britons.

Passengers from east Europe made the largest growth with 16.7 percent followed by the Commonwealth of the Independent States and Africa, the statement said.

In 2017, traffic at the world’s busiest airport grew by 4.6 million passengers or 5.5 percent.

Dubai’s non-oil based economy has faced a slowdown in the key real estate and tourism sectors.

Dubai International, the base for Dubai-owned carrier Emirates and its budget airline FlyDubai, overtook London’s Heathrow airport in terms of international passengers in 2014 and has maintained its lead since.

AFP

Israel To Open New International Airport Near Red Sea

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a diplomatic conference organised by daily Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post, in Jerusalem. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

 

Israel was to inaugurate a new international airport Monday in its desert south meant to boost tourism to the nearby Red Sea and serve as an emergency alternative to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport.

The official ceremony was scheduled to begin at 11:30 am (0930 GMT) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.

Initially, Ramon Airport will handle only domestic flights, operated by Israeli carriers Arkia and Israir.

A date has not yet been given for the start of international flights.

The new airport, named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, will in future host jumbo jets from around the globe.

Its website says that it will be able to initially handle up to two million passengers annually, but will be able to expand to a capacity of 4.2 million by 2030.

It says that it has a 3,600-metre-long runway and apron parking space for nine “large and wide-body aircraft”.

It also has freight-handling facilities.

Ramon is about 18 kilometres (11 miles) from the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat and the adjacent Jordanian port of Aqaba.

Low-cost and charter airlines currently flying to Ovda airport, about 60 kilometres from Eilat, will move to Ramon, its website says.

They include Ryanair, Wizz Air, EasyJet, SAS, Finnair and Ural Airlines.

It will also replace Eilat’s small municipal airfield, where for decades arriving aircraft have swooped past hotel towers.

Construction costs for the new airport have been put at 1.7 billion shekels ($455 million, 395 million euros).

Work began in 2013 but original specifications for the project were revised to allow for upgrades.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) has said that the plans for the Ramon project were revised in light of lessons learned during the 2014 Gaza war.

“In an emergency, not only will Israel’s entire passenger air fleet be able to land and park there, but also additional aircraft,” the IAA says.

After a rocket fired by Hamas militants in Gaza hit near the perimeter of Ben Gurion airport in 2014, international carriers suspended flights.

Israeli media have said that a 26-metre (85 foot) high, 4.5-kilometre (2.8 mile) long “smart” anti-missile fence has been installed to help protect Ramon, which is adjacent to the border with Jordan.

The IAA refused to comment on those reports.

Tourism brings in significant revenue for Israel, accounting for $5.8 billion in 2017, the last full year for which figures are available.

Arrivals to the country of more than eight million citizens hit a record 3.6 million last year, the Israeli tourism ministry said.

The United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain accounted for most of the visitors.

AFP