Coronavirus Fallout: Aviation takes a hit | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 16, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:36 AM, February 16, 2020

Coronavirus Fallout: Aviation takes a hit

Flights depart almost empty; incoming tourists cancel trips

Airlines operating flights between Bangladesh and China have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of travellers on the otherwise busy air route has drastically fallen.

The new virus that has spread to at least 26 countries also affected Bangladesh's tourism as fewer people are choosing to fly in and out, several travel agencies and tour operators said.

They said many foreign tourists' planned trips to Bangladesh had been cancelled.

Besides cancelling almost all scheduled tours to China, Many Bangladeshis cancelled tours to India, Bhutan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Bangladesh's US-Bangla Airlines and China's China Southern and China Eastern airlines operate direct flights between Dhaka and cities in China.

US-Bangla and China Southern used to operate seven flights between Dhaka and Guangzhou while China Eastern used to operate seven flights between Dhaka and Kunming every week.

But since last week, each of the three carriers have reduced flight frequency to three flights a week, officials said.

Hong Kong-based Dragon Air, which used to operate four flights a week between Dhaka and China via Hong Kong, also reduced its number of flights.

However, the number of people coming to Bangladesh from China have not fallen that much, said Kamrul Islam, general manager (public relations) at US-Bangla Airlines.

"In fact, the number of arrivals has increased in the last two weeks," he said.

An official at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) provided The Daily Star with data on inbound and outbound flights from January 21 to February 4.

During the period, at least six flights of US-Bangla Airlines left Dhaka with only a few passengers and the carrier had to cancel two other flights.

A China Eastern flight to China from Dhaka left without any passenger and the carrier cancelled two other flights, officials said.

Dragon Air also cancelled five flights from Bangladesh to China.

Talking to reporters in Sylhet, Mesbah Uddin Ahmed, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines, said, "We are aware of the risks, but we will continue our operation, considering the plight of Bangladeshis who want to return."

A 164-seater Boeing 737 of US-Bangla Airlines flies between Dhaka and Guangzhou of China. The plane flew to Guangzhou 13 times from January 21 to February 4. The flights carried less than 130 passengers against its capacity of 2,132.

In the 13 inbound flights from Guangzhou, the plane carried at least 1,156 passengers.

China Eastern Airlines carried around 15 passengers on an average in each flight from Dhaka during the period.

Aviation expert Kazi Wahidul Alam said around 6,000 people travelled to China every week before the outbreak.

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Thursday reported that 70 airlines have cancelled all international flights in and out of China and 50 others have reduced their flight operations.

Taslim Amin Shovon, CEO of tour operator Bizcon Holidays and former director of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh, told The Daily Star that he was forced to cancel several group trips to Sikkim, Bhutan, and Darjeeling in February and March as holidaymakers cancelled their bookings.

Abdus Salam Aref, former secretary general of the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh, said the number of outbound passengers had reduced by around 70-80 percent and inbound passengers by 35-40 percent.

Akbar Hossain, a resident of the capital's Jigatola, said, "We had plans to visit Sikkim and Thailand in March. But the safety of my family is my number one priority."

Mohibul Haque, senior secretary of the civil aviation and tourism ministry, told reporters at his office on February 13 that the impact of coronavirus had spread across the world. "We can't deny the fact that it will have some impact on Bangladesh." 

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