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Wed, May 28, 2003

Pacific Traffic Still Down

Blame SARS

Commercial air traffic over the Pacific is off by as much as 40 percent, while other air carriers are beginning to report a rebound from the post-9/11 slump. Many of the Pacific-based airlines serving East Asia are struggling in the wake of the SARS epidemic in a way all too familiar to American-based carriers. For them, however, there's little hope of government bailouts. Instead, they're asking airports to reduce fees and tariffs, hoping that they'll be able ride the storm out until SARS, which appears to be abating in places like Hong Kong and Tapei, is no longer a travel deterrent.

In the meantime, however, hundreds of flights in the region have been canceled, thousands of passengers have opted not to travel and now, airports themselves are trying to help.

Friday, the World Health Organization lifted its travel ban on Hong Kong. Now, that city is determined to win back tourist dollars lost to other destinations or just plain staying home out of fear for SARS. In Hong Kong over the weekend, where commercial air traffic is off more than 80% according to local officials, the government is offering a package worth more than $12.8 million to airlines hard-hit by the pneumonia-like disease. Airlines that restore routes to Hong Kong will get discounts. Airlines who increase their passenger loads to Hong Kong will also get discounts on landing fees and tariffs. Passengers themselves could receive free rides in Rolls Royce limousines from the airport to their hotels.

AAPA Leans On WHO For Help

But the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) wants the WHO to do more. The Executive Committee of the AAPA met on May 19th, to discuss the SARS crisis and the unprecedented impact it has had on the Asian airline industry. Committee members most affected, in addition to China Airlines, include Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines, but all members have been hit to a greater or lesser degree.

The Committee agreed that the first priority was to establish firmly public acceptance that travel by air did not increase the risk of contracting SARS. They welcomed various statements by WHO officials on this subject, but felt that more needed to be done to get the message across. Only the WHO had the level of authority necessary to change public opinion.

AAPA says recently adopted common screening policies by the airport authorities of ASEAN + 3 would help. Secondly, the committee felt that WHO should give equal attention to putting the scale of the outbreak into perspective and to emphasizing the low risk of infection. “What we are combating is fear and misconceptions, not a runaway epidemic,” said Wei, the Chairman.

The airlines were in full agreement that at the right moment it would be essential to launch a massive campaign designed to bring tourists and businessmen back to Asia and to remind people that travel and tourism were an integral element of modern life, for which there was no substitute. However, they cautioned that timing was crucial and that coordination between airlines and regional tourism authorities was essential for a successful campaign. Wei, on behalf of the committee, said: “The perception in Europe and the USA is, unfortunately, that the whole of Asia is equally risky in terms of infection. Therefore, when the time is right Asia must act as one in re-establishing its premier role as a destination for tourism and business.”

FMI: www.aapairlines.org, www.who.int/en

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