ADDIS ABEBA – African Airlines have lost 400mln US dollars since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China in February, according to the global airline industry body.
The epidemic is not as widespread in Africa as in other continents, but it has led airlines like South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Air Tanzania, Air Mauritius, EgyptAir, RwandAir and Kenya Airways to suspend flights to and from China.
The continent’s largest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, is still operating flights to and from five cities in China.
Vice-President of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Raphael Kuuchi, told the BBC that the losses in the continent’s aviation industry had so far come from suspended and canceled flights on routes to China.
He said the impact of the virus is bound to get worse for African airlines – which last year posted losses of $100m.
So far, cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria and Senegal.
Tewolde GebreMariam, chief executive officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, said the virus had slashed passenger demand.
Ethiopian Airlines has faced criticism online for not canceling flights to China like neighbors Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
“The air travel demand for Ethiopian Airlines has declined by 20% due to the corona,” Tewolde told Reuters.
“It is a big shock,” he told an aviation conference in Addis Ababa.
On Tuesday, Kenya halted direct flights from Italy’s northern cities of Verona and Milan, which usually head to the Kenyan coast. Northern Italy has seen Europe’s biggest cluster of coronavirus cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that countries with poor healthcare systems may not be able to cope with an outbreak, with many in Africa being of particular concern.