Saturday 28 March 2020

AUSTRALIA: Government To Offer $298m To Regional Airlines

Australia’s regional airlines – including Rex, Alliance and Pelican – will have access to $298 million to continue operating through the coronavirus crisis.

An initial $198 million will underwrite airlines’ operating costs on selected regional routes, with a further $100 million earmarked to provide direct financial support to smaller regional airlines should it be needed.

The Regional Air Network Assistance Package comes on top of an earlier $715 million provision for the broader aviation sector, bringing the Federal Government’s aviation buffer to just over $1 billion.

“Regional aviation has been smashed by COVID-19,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister, Michael McCormack.

“The funding will ensure regional communities benefit from an ongoing airline service by underwriting airlines’ operating costs on selected routes.”

“More than 100 regional and remote airports received a scheduled passenger service last month and this funding will be welcome news for the aviation workforce and the broader communities these services support,” McCormack added.

He said that the 26,000 people employed in the regional aviation sector is in turn worth billions of dollars to rural communities.

There are currently around 12 commercial regional airlines operating regular scheduled passenger services across Australia.

The support package follows calls earlier this week for “urgent financial assistance” by nine of Australia’s regional carriers, led by Regional Express and Pelican Airlines.

Rex moved to suspend all flights within NSW, Victoria and South Australia until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission stepped in with unprecedented approval for Regional Express, Qantas and Virgin Australia to share services and revenue on 10 key regional routes during the coronavirus pandemic, provided that fares do not exceed those charged as of February 1, 2020.

Some of the combined services include Sydney–Albury, Sydney-Armidale, Melbourne-Mildura, Adelaide-Port Lincoln, Cairns-Townsville and Townville-Mount Isa.

Rex chief operating officer Neville Howell had previously said the airline could fold within six months without government intervention, and has also requested the Government waive a range of fees and charges for a full year to help offset the impact of the coronavirus on regional air travel.

“If regional carriers collapse, so will many regional communities for which the air service is their lifeline,” Howell predicted.

In a letter to McCormack on March 26, signed by Pelican Airlines CEO Martin Hawley on behalf of eight regional carriers, Hawley warned that “the financial survival of our companies can be counted in days rather than weeks.”

“Unlike the major carriers, our companies are generally privately or family-owned… it is the smaller to mid-size companies that offer much needed air services to regional communities throughout Australia servicing routes unattractive to the major airlines. The risks are high and the margins small.”

The Government’s $298m in funding will be available for regional airlines, contracted aero-medical providers and other related essential service providers through a grants program with monthly payments through to 30 September 2020.

Friday 27 March 2020

NEWZEALAND: Novotel Christchurch Airport Hotel Is Open

Passengers transiting through Christchurch Airport can now revive at the Novotel Christchurch Airport hotel, conveniently located across from the airport's domestic and international terminal.

With many flights arriving into Christchurch around midnight – as well as departing the South Island’s largest city bright and early from 6am – the hotel and its on-airport location will also be appreciated by travellers who favour convenience in spending the first or last night of their visit in close proximity to their flight.

The NZ$80 million new-build hotel also sits 15 minutes from the city and spans six floors to offer 200 guestrooms including 10 suites, finished in marble, copper tiling and American Oak panelling, designed by Warren and Mahoney Architects: which also designed the popular Novotel Auckland Airport hotel.

Many of the rooms and suites offer views towards the airport, including the terminals, control tower, and departure gates.

The same can be said of the hotel’s meeting and function spaces, which are either at aerobridge level, or on the top level of the hotel, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views across the runway and over the Southern Alps.

Guests can make use of an on-site gym, car parking, a kids’ corner, a lobby bar, and the hotel’s dining options with Food Exchange restaurant, Gourmet Bar, and The Exchange Bar.

“We know that short-stay business travellers, leisure guests and Accor’s valued 4.5 million Pacific loyalty members will be impressed with the hotel’s features, catering to their transit needs,” shares Gillian Millar, Senior Vice President Operations for Accor New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia.

Novotel Christchurch Airport is Accor’s first airport hotel in Christchurch and its third in New Zealand – the others being in Auckland.

The property also participates in the Le Club AccorHotels loyalty program, which will soon be rebranded as Accor Live Limitless.

CHINA: Beijing Daxing Airport Is GatewayTo China

Five years ago, Daxing was a dusty area of farmland to the south of Beijing, largely neglected by visitors to the city. That’s no longer the case, now that an enormous airport has emerged there to thrust China even closer to toppling the U.S. as the world’s biggest aviation market.

Beijing Daxing International Airport, an 80 billion yuan (US$11.2 billion) starfish-shaped structure hailed by state media as a “new gateway” to the country, opened this week, just in time for the People’s Republic of China’s 70th birthday.

A state-of-the-art terminal designed to eventually handle more than 100 million passengers a year is symbolic for President Xi Jinping, who faces a raft of challenges, including a trade war with the U.S., a slowing economy and mass protests in Hong Kong.

Xi has identified aviation as a key strategic industry. The president attended an official opening ceremony for the new airport, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, on Wednesday.

Within two decades, annual passenger traffic in China’s skies will reach 1.6 billion, according to the International Air Transport Association, more than the country’s population today.

China has set a goal of having 450 commercial airports by 2035, almost double the number at the end of 2018. It’s also developed a jet to compete with Boeing and Airbus.

The vast new airport should increase Beijing’s passenger capacity by 60% and help unclog the capital’s other international airport – the second busiest in the world behind Atlanta – to the north, which often has long delays despite a huge new terminal opening there ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Bottlenecks at Beijing Capital International Airport likely capped annual passenger traffic growth at an average of 4% from 2013 to 2018, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Denise Wong said.

China has little option but to spend big and fast to have a shot at keeping up with demand. In its latest annual report on the commercial aviation market, Boeing said it expects airline passenger traffic in China to grow 6% a year.

McKinsey & Co. says the extra slots at Daxing – which will initially have four runways and eventually seven, including one for military use – could open new direct connections to places such as San Diego.

Beijing now joins major cities including London, New York and Tokyo with more than one international airport. The high-speed rail connecting Daxing to West Beijing will begin operations at the end of the month.

“It can get 10 if not hundreds of new destinations connected to Beijing over the years,” said Steve Saxon, a McKinsey partner in Shanghai. “This is the power of having large connecting hubs.”

Daxing also upends the government’s traditional one-international-route-per-airline model that left long-haul services from Beijing in the hands of Air China.

The new site will become a launchpad to Europe, Asia and beyond for the other two of China’s “Big Three” carriers: China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines. They’ll both get their first-ever direct flights to cities including Paris and Moscow.

The goal is to restyle Beijing as an international transport hub as air travel surges with China’s expanding middle class and a greater desire to venture overseas.

The opening of Daxing, which will also help closer integrate Beijing with Tianjin and Hebei, should put China on a stronger footing to compete with traditional transits such as Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as younger hubs like Bangkok, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur.

China still trails many major aviation markets in Asia in terms of connectivity, according to a report by OAG Aviation Worldwide published Tuesday.

Singapore and Hong Kong are the region’s most internationally connected hubs, the report showed. Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China’s top entry, came in eighth.

IATA expects 4.6 billion people to take a flight in 2019, a figure that will almost double to 8.2 billion in 2037 as flying penetrates deeper into the enormous populations of India and Indonesia.

Daxing is just one of many airport projects underway in Asia, collectively costing more than US$100 billion, in a race to handle all those passengers. A new terminal opened at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on September 16.

The relaxation of China’s one-route, one-airline policy at Daxing will encourage Chinese carriers to apply for international routes once monopolized by their competitors, said Yu Zhanfu, a partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Beijing who focuses on aviation. Beijing will be a good spot to take a break without making a big detour.

Among the tons of steel and glass at Daxing, passengers will find five traditional-style Chinese gardens with ponds, wooden pavilions and stone bridges.

The new airport also has facial recognition and paperless check-in systems using technologies from companies including China Unicom and Huawei Technologies.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China is offering airlines incentives to use the new airport. They’ll get priority when it comes to obtaining rights for international flights, CAAC’s deputy director of transport department, Yu Biao, said in July.

Foreign carriers can choose to operate in both airports in Beijing, or one of them, but those that switch to Daxing can acquire new routes or more convenient slots, Yu said.

Daxing expects one fifth of its passengers to be transfers by 2025. Among international flag carriers, British Airways said in July it plans to shift its direct Heathrow-Beijing flights to the new airport from October 27, helping it maximize a code-sharing agreement with China Southern.

China Eastern has kept its Beijing-Shanghai route at the old airport, which is closer to the central business district.

The next step will be for us to keep expanding new routes, said CAAC’s Yu. We’d like to see more foreign carriers operate in Daxing.

SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines Chops Flights After Travel Ban

Singapore Airlines has warned that the coronavirus epidemic represents the “greatest challenge” it has ever faced as the flag carrier cut 96 per cent of its passenger flights in response to the crisis.

Late last night the island city-state took extreme steps to combat the spread of the disease by banning all inbound travellers.

In response, the airline will ground 138 out of its 147 planes – including the planes of subsidiary Silk Air – as well as 47 of budget carrier Scoot’s 49 planes.

Singapore is also taking additional steps to mitigate the financial impact of the crisis, including implementing salary cuts for staff and delaying new aircraft orders from suppliers.

It is also in discussion with various banks about extending its credit lines and securing further liquidity in the face of the ongoing disruption.

In a note released before the measures were implemented, brokerage UOB Kay Hian said that the carrier needed “backstop liquidity” of at least 5bn Singapore dollars (£3bn) by June.

In a statement, the airline said that it would “continue to aggressively pursue all measures to address the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the company”.

“It is unclear when the SIA Group can begin to resume normal services, given the uncertainty as to when the stringent border controls will be lifted,” it added.

Shares in the airline dropped nearly 11 per cent during the day’s trading.

The global financial capital has been one of the states to best tackle the coronavirus outbreak, only confirming its first two deaths from the illness this weekend, despite being one of the first countries outside of China to be afflicted.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Singapore has only had 455 confirmed cases of the disease, considerably lower than many of its neighbours.

ingapore Airlines will almost grind its international flight network to a halt in light of the Singaporean Government’s ban on visitors and transit travellers, and similar bans in many countries to which it flies.

Between them, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir will ground 138 aircraft, out of a total fleet of 147 jets – leaving just nine aircraft flying – with low-cost subsidiary Scoot parking 47 of its 49 planes.

Until at least the end of April 2020 there will be flights to just five destinations – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Jakarta and Brunei – representing a staggering 96% capacity reduction.

"The resultant collapse in the demand for air travel has led to a significant decline in SIA’s passenger revenues," the airline said in a statement.

"It is unclear when the SIA Group can begin to resume normal services, given the uncertainty as to when the stringent border controls will be lifted."

Many of Singapore Airlines' flights to Australia and other destinations were already slated to be wound back or cancelled from late March until at least the end of April, with these changes serving as a further reduction.

As Singapore is a city-state with no commercial domestic flights, the impacts of global travel restrictions on the airline will be significant.

In February 2020, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir ran up to 155 return flights per week between Australia and Singapore: plus, five return flights per week between Melbourne and Wellington.

Singapore Airlines cancellations: what to do if you're affected
Alternative travel options can be clarified once Singapore Airlines reveals which flights have been cancelled and which remain, with a standing policy that "affected customers will be notified and re-accommodated onto other flights."

The airlines' current waiver policy is to allow tickets to become open-dated, to change flights without fees, or retain the value of the ticket for future travel before 31 March 2021.

For urgent assistance within 72 hours of your flight, contact the reservations team at 13 10 11 from Australia or +65 6223 8888 from overseas if you booked directly with Singapore Airlines. If you booked through a travel agency, contact that agency.

If your travel isn't as imminent, then you can contact the team through an online form. As a last resort, if you can't get in touch and miss your flight departing between 16 to 31 March 2020, all no-show fees will be waived when you rebook or change your ticket to open-dated.

You can keep track of Singapore Airlines' latest advisories, including new flight cancellations and ticket waiver policies, on its website.

Thursday 26 March 2020

NETHERLANDS: Tourists Stuck In Various Countries As Countries Shutdown

The some 200 thousand Dutch tourists stuck abroad are running out of time and possibilities to get home as more and more countries close their borders and global air traffic gets closer to being shut down.

Some 150 thousand people are at risk of getting stranded for a long time, travel agencies and airlines say.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to bring as many stranded tourists home as possible, Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs said.

But it involves hundreds of thousands of people, and that takes time, he said. One of the very concrete things we do is ask for extra landing possibilities, so that as many as possible planes with Dutch can fly back and forth.

Many countries are keeping their airspace closed, meaning that repatriation flights need to require special permission from the authorities.

The Ministry is currently trying to keep the airspace at the borders of South European and North African countries open.

Around 30 thousand Dutch people were stuck there, half of whom were brought home during the week, the association of travel agencies ANVR said.

Airlines are flying extra flights to bring tourists back. This is the only type of flight Transavia is currently still performing. The airline performed 36 such flights over the past days.

TUI and Corendon are also deploying additional planes. KLM is focused on popular holiday destinations, according to the newspaper.

One such KLM flight was prevented from landing in Ecuador on Wednesday evening. The plane had picked up 185 travelers in Quito, and was scheduled to pick up another 164 in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

But when the plane approached, it was told it could not land. The runway was occupied by a worried mayor and a group of people.

The mayor thought the plane was bringing tourists from Europe who may be infected with the coronavirus.

This while we only had travellers on board who had to go to Europe. We were therefore unable to pick up the 164 travellers in Guayaquil. The plane flew directly to Amsterdam. KLM will again try to pick up travellers in Ecuador on Friday.

An estimated 100 thousand Dutch people are in distant locations around the world, according to the newspaper. Travellers in Asia, Australia and Africa can still try to fly home through the Gulf States, where air traffic has not been completely halted yet.

KLM is also planning repatriation flights to Peru, India, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Philippines in the coming days.

The outbreak of coronavirus Covid-19 means that tourism from China to the Netherlands will decrease even more than previous estimations, according to the Netherlands' office for tourism and congresses NBTC.

Last month the agency said that the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Netherlands would decrease from around 380 thousand last year to 300 thousand this year. Now NBTC expects the decrease to be even stronger, NOS reports.

The Covid-19 outbreak resulted in travel restrictions and measures from the market. Airlines like KLM are no longer flying to China.

Every month that air traffic to and from China is halted, the European tourism sector misses out on 1 billion euros, the European Commission calculated this week. According to ING, the Dutch tourism sector misses out on around 40 million euros a month.

While that is a lot, it is not massive compared to the total amount of tourism spending in the Netherlands, at 13.5 billion euros, Thijs Geijer of ING said to NOS.

Around two percent of the total hotel stays booked by foreign tourists in the Netherlands are booked by people from China. That is really only a small share, he said.

While entrepreneurs from other sectors may eventually be harder hit by the virus, its effect on the tourism sector is immediately noticeable, Geijer said.

Travel agencies are already noticing that Dutch people are delaying vacation plans.

NETHERLANDS: China Airlines Support KLM

KLM works with three Chinese airline partners: China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. These partners have now stepped in to generously support KLM and the Netherlands by donating many tens of thousands of face masks and gloves to KLM in our struggle against the coronavirus outbreak.

In light of scarce resources at Dutch hospitals, KLM will in turn be helping the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam and other Dutch healthcare institutes.

Today, in the early hours of the morning, the first shipment arrived at Schiphol carried by one of Xiamen Airlines' aircraft.

On behalf of the employees of the three Chinese airlines, KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers accepted this first shipment of in total around 90,000 face masks and 50,000 pairs of gloves.

KLM's CEO was accompanied by Ernst Kuipers, Chairman of the Boards of Erasmus MC and the Dutch Network for Acute Medical Care (Landelijk Netwerk Acute Zorg -- LNAZ), and Brinio Veldhuijzen van Zanten of KLM Health Services.

Over the past 20 years, KLM has established a broad-based route network, coupled with especially close relations in China.

Before the outbreak of the corona crisis, KLM and its partners operated 59 flights a week from Schiphol to mainland China. Shipments of this nature serve to underscore the enormous significance of connections by air in general, and those with China in particular.

Medical supplies like this can only be transported swiftly and efficiently to the other side of the world by aircraft. This is especially important in times of scarcity and interdependence.

KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers highlighted that: "Help of this nature from our Chinese partners China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines is both incredibly generous and much appreciated.

Help like this from our Chinese friends serves to highlight just how close the ties are between China, the Netherlands and KLM. These are incredibly difficult times for our country and our company, so we are very pleased with this support for KLM and for the Netherlands.

Less than two months ago, we at KLM made a donation to China and now we have received fantastic and generous help ourselves. This certainly feels good."

On behalf of all Dutch healthcare institutes, LNAZ is coordinating the stocks of personal protective gear for healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ernst Kuipers, CEO Erasmus MC thanked KLM and said, "This donation will help all Dutch healthcare institutes at a critical phase of caring for patients across the Netherlands. We are also incredibly grateful to KLM's Chinese partners for this."

KLM will be flying from Hong Kong to Amsterdam at 1:35 p.m. on Tuesday, local time. The airline has been granted an exemption from the Dutch aviation authorities for the landing ban that applies to flights from the Chinese city, the Consulate General in Hong Kong announced.

Dutch and residents of other EU or Schengen countries stuck in Hong Kong are advised to contact the Dutch airline.

KLM is flying two final flights from Seoul, South Korea this week. The first will be on Tuesday, the second on Thursday, and both flights may be booked on KLM's website.

Cabin crew members of various airlines are deeply concerned about the risks of flying, especially on repatriating flights filled with passengers. "People are afraid," Chris van Elswijk of the Dutch Cabin Crew Association said to Hart van Nederland. "People are concerned about the distance and contact moments with passengers."

According to Van Elswijk, who is a purser for KLM, cabin crew members are trying to stick to the government guidelines of staying 1.5 meters from others, but that is not always possible. "If you work in a full aircraft with 300 passengers, you cannot meet the guidelines that are set," he said.

Airlines are working on measures to increase the safety of passengers and crew, he said. KLM, for example, adjusted the onboard service schedule so that there is less physical- or close range contact between passengers and crew.

And if crew members do not want to fly on a certain flight, their employers are open to discuss their concerns and alternatives, he said.

Because halting all air traffic is not yet an option, Van Elswijk said to Hart van Nederland. There are still many Dutch people abroad. They still have to be picked up.

Meanwhile, the first batch of Rwandans who were stranded abroad amid the novel coronavirus outbreak arrived in Rwanda Sunday, thanks to the Government’s partnership with Dutch airline KLM.

Most governments placed their countries into lockdown with no flights allowed to fly in as a measure to contain Covid-19, which left many people stranded in other countries, including Rwandans.

Rwanda itself put a stop to passenger planes and only emergence landings and cargo transporters are allowed into the country.

Rwandan nationals especially students who study abroad and other diaspora communities had expressed concern recently after failing to find a way to come back home.

The Government had promised that it was working out an alternative to rescue nationals and legal residents who were facing travel difficulties as a result of restrictions imposed by different countries.

“It’s true there is an arrangement between the Government of Rwanda and KLM! The 1st flight was yesterday, another departed today!” Jean Pierre Karabaranga, Rwanda’s Ambassador to The Hague said.

Karabaranga added that the last flight is expected Wednesday 25.

The Ambassador indicated that they have been spreading information regarding the arrangement by informing the diaspora members.

The Minister in charge of East African Community at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Olivier Nduhungirehe, said this follows a conversation with ambassadors to facilitate all Rwandans abroad.

We had a video call with all ambassadors on Friday and they are facilitating everyone who wants to come back to Rwanda to be able to get here, he noted.

Rwanda has so far registered 19 Covid-19 cases as of Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health.

QATAR: Qatar Airways Persists With Flights While Other Airlines Are Packed

With an unprecedented amount of airlines grounding fleets and countries imposing border restrictions due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways has affirmed its commitment to keeping a large part of their route network connected.

An update from the Doha-based carrier says: We appreciate this is a difficult time and that many people around the world are trying to find a way to get home.

At Qatar Airways we continue to operate more than 150 flights per day so that as many people as possible can get home safely to their loved ones.

“As of 24 March, we are operating services to over 70 cities worldwide. We are constantly reviewing our operations to see where there is more demand and requests, and wherever possible we will add more flights or bigger aircraft.

This is a challenging time for the aviation industry and we are thankful to airports and authorities and their staff around the world for their incredible efforts to help us get passengers home.”

Many other airlines have grounded their entire fleets around the world, but Qatar Airways retains considerable flexibility to adjust its aircraft type on certain routes, particularly those to Europe.

The middle eastern carrier operates a wide-body fleet that consists of a350s, a380s, a330s, Boeing 777s and the 787 Dreamliner. However, unlike other airlines who operate a less diverse fleet, Qatar has been able to adjust operations with reduced demand and even has the option of placing narrow-body aircraft on certain routes.

The airline also operates every variant of the smaller a320-family aircraft, allowing for potential future equipment flexibility to keep certain low-demand operations running.

Qatar Airways has amended its ‘Travel with Confidence’ and flight disruption policies and has taken the unprecedented move of not only offering customers the option of a ticket refund but for those who choose to receive a travel voucher for future use, passengers will receive the full unutilized value of their ticket plus an additional 10% of the fare cost as an added value offer.

The airline is reinstating some previously suspended flights to France and Germany in addition to upgrading existing flights to larger aircraft with the tag #TakingYouHome.

Qatar Airways is operating over 150 flights every day to help its passengers reach their destination safely. In a statement issued yesterday, Qatar’s national airline said that it is operating services to over 70 cities worldwide.

Qatar Airways has taken a series of steps to help travellers in challenging times. Last week, the airline announced that it would offer future travel voucher for passengers.

The passengers affected by changes in its services can opt for a future travel voucher that will be valid for one year from its issuance date.

Qatar’s national airline had also said that it would allow its passengers to get refund or re-book their tickets to alternative dates or destinations without any charge.

Qatar Airways is also working closely with the World Health Organisation and local authorities worldwide to safeguard the health and safety of its employees and passengers.

Its modern fleet is protected with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration systems, eliminating 99.97 percent of fine airborne particles from circulating air in cabins, greatly restricting the spread of airborne fungi, viruses and bacteria.

Even in these tough times, the airline is transporting goods to several countries. The multiple award-winning airline, through its freighter and passenger aircraft, is transporting commodities ranging from fresh food items to healthcare products to Qatar and countries around the world.

More than 320,000kg of general cargo, perishables, pharmaceuticals, courier and other products are flown on Qatar Airways flights every day.

MALAYSIA: Prime Minister Announces Closedown

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on national TV emergency lockdown measures that came into effective 18 March and continue to the end of the month.

Just hours earlier, the Malaysia Travel and Tourism Association’s president, Datuk Tan Kok Liang, called on the government to take drastic action and “press the reset button” after the confirmed cases tally soared to 566 at the weekend.

In his TV statement, the Prime Minister said mass events would be cancelled, including cultural, social, sports and religious events. All places of worship and businesses will close, except for markets, supermarkets and shops selling essential goods.

Muhyiddin stated that all Malaysians currently overseas would undergo self-quarantine for 14 days when they returned home. Foreign travellers are barred from entering the country and Malaysians must stop all overseas travel.

Essential services will remain open, such as pharmacies, power plants, telecommunications and transportation facilities.

Malaysia has 566 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of 16 March, with 511 in hospital, and 42 recovered cases.

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents is urging the government to declare an all-out war against Covid-19 instead of continuing with protracted battles on a piecemeal basis with no end in sight.

MATTA President, Datuk Tan Kok Liang commented: “An all-out war requires the entire country to be locked down and this is what many European nations have already done, and more countries are expected to follow suit.

The global outbreak of the coronavirus has reached a scale where nations have to take bold and drastic measures.

As of noon on 15 March 2020, 190 new cases were recorded in Malaysia, taking the total number of positive Covid-19 cases to 428. Our initial response to contain the outbreak was successful but no longer so.

Hence, more effective measures are needed, and we could adopt some from overseas, as the novel coronavirus has now spread to over 155 countries around the world.

The lockdown should provide sufficient notice and be clearly spelt out and not perceived as 24-hour curfew, which will result in panic buying and hoarding.

Also, mechanisms must be in place to prevent or reduce unnecessary hardships to the rakyat as well as remaining tourists still holidaying in Malaysia.

As for the tourism industry, there is little left to salvage. It would be better to press the reset button and start all over again on a clean slate by placing hygiene, safety and security as top priorities and restore confidence for holidaymakers.

When our country is all set, Malaysia will be recognised as one of the safest destinations to visit, and Malaysians too would be welcomed in many countries when the situation normalises.

For countries that are proactive in dealing with this crisis, tourism may rebound as fast as it had plunged, while others that take piecemeal actions will somewhat find it difficult to rebound.

He reminded members to heed the many guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, such as adopting social distancing by standing at least a metre away from another individual.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced earlier that all gatherings, including international meetings, sporting events, social and religious assemblies, would be postponed or cancelled until 30 April.

Instead of endless running battles, it would be better to take the bull by the horns, and it is an opportune time for the new government to rally the people together to fight and win this war.

To rejuvenate our economy, we may have to start with a temporary lockdown, the MATTA chief conjectured.

As it is our moral and social responsibility to place human lives first, all MATTA Fairs scheduled in Kuala Lumpur and various states throughout the country have been deferred until the country return to normalcy.

They include Cuti-Cuti Malaysia By MATTA Fair that will not be held on 4 to 5 April 2020, and MATTA Fair Kuala Lumpur will not be held 1 to 3 May 2020.

He noted that the Malaysia Travel Fair held recently at the Kuala Lumpur World Trade Centre from 13 to 15 March 2020 was organised by a different association registered as Persatuan Agensi Pelancongan Malaysia and calling itself as MATA.

It has nothing to do with the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) or MATTA Fairs”
, concluded Tan.

ASIA: Association Of Asia Pacific Airlines Cries Out To Government For Financial Bailout

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines calls on governments to provide financial support for airlines to weather the Covid-19 storm.

APPA says air travel in the Asia Pacific is virtually grinding to a halt due to the travel bans, border closures, lockdowns, quarantine and isolation orders imposed by governments.

Representing the interests of hundreds of airlines in the Asia-Pacific, APPA calls on governments to rapidly implement emergency relief measures.

Association of Asia Pacific Airlines Advice

Suspend payroll taxes, defer or reduce income taxes, the extension of payment terms, waiver of ticket taxes & other government levies, taxes, dues and charges for 2020.

Direct financial support for reduced revenues and liquidity support due to travel restrictions

Extend interest-free loans or loan guarantees, and support for corporate bond markets either directly or to commercial banks to extend credit for affected companies.

Direct financial support needed for individuals facing the loss of livelihood.

AAPA urges all Governments to take immediate action to address the societal impact of the world’s worst public health crisis in a century.

Asian airlines are facing revenue shortfalls of upwards of USD60 billion this year as a result of sharp falls in demand which have already forced the grounding of over half of the fleet.

Many of the 1 million workers employed in the Asia Pacific airline industry are unable to work because of the drastic reductions in operations. Many are facing the threat of a loss of their livelihoods.

The sharp reductions in passenger services have also drastically reduced available air cargo capacity affecting critical supply chains, including getting food and medical supplies to affected communities worldwide.

Asian airlines are continuing to operate dedicated freighter services but need help in streamlining operations, scheduling, and crew clearances to keep critical goods moving as a lifeline.

APPA claims the World Health Organisation (WHO) is providing strong leadership in coordinating the global public health response and notes that this is the first pandemic we can control if all countries and sectors come together.

THAILAND: Thai Airways International Halts Flights

Thai Airways International will ground all services in Asia, 25 March, followed by Australia on 27 March and Europe
on 1 April, the airline announced Tuesday evening.

According to the airline’s announcement flights will remain grounded
until 31 May.

Blaming travel bans and country lockdowns that battle the Covid-19 outbreaks across Europe and Asia the airline is embarking on an unprecedented shutdown of flights that will last through to 31 May.

Starting on 25 March 2020 services are suspended to Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo (Narita and Haneda), Osaka, Nagoya, Seoul, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Yangon, Singapore, Jakarta, Denpasar, Kunming, Xiamen, Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Karachi, Kathmandu, Lahore, Dhaka, Islamabad, and Colombo.

Domestic flights to Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Krabi will be transferred and operated by THAI Smile.

Starting on 27 March 2020 services are suspended to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth in Australia.

Starting on 1 April 2020 THAI will cancel most of its flights to Europe serving London, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, Moscow
and Stockholm.

The airline had earlier suspended flights to Sendai, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Busan, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Rome, Milan, Vienna, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Muscat, Dubai, and Auckland.

Passengers who hold THAI and THAI Smile code-share tickets, issued before 25 March 2020 with the following travel periods, can convert unused tickets to one-year valid travel voucher without fees or surcharges:
Asian Routes 25 March to 31 May 2020; European, Australian and New Zealand Routes 1 April to 31 May 2020.

Royal Orchid Plus (ROP) members holding award tickets issued for travel during 25 March to 31 May 2020 are eligible for a full re-credit mileages, or they can opt to change the travel date without any fee or charge with expired miles extended until 30 September 2020.

Passengers can check flight schedules and make itinerary changes themselves on website. For ticket adjustments or more information, ROP members can contact THAI Sales Offices or visit

THAI will still operate cargo service on some routes and will operate charter flights if there are stranded passengers or government agencies that make a request.

UAE: Emirates Temporarily Suspends All Passenger Services

Emirates confirmed Tuesday it would temporarily suspend all passenger services from 25 March to comply with the UAE government’s directive.

Claiming the measures are in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 the airline said it hoped to “resume services as soon as feasible”.

Cargo and emergency repatriation flights are exempt.

An earlier post issued by the airline on the evening of 22 March suggested that it would be able to keep some flights operating and even identified cities in Asia and Europe.

However, that post was superseded by a statement on Tuesday, 24 March that confirmed all flights to and from the UAE would be cancelled 25 March.

The airline assured passengers they do not need to call to cancel bookings as the airline deactivated its no-show fees. It did advise passengers to complete a travel voucher request form to rebook flights later.

The airline is facing an overload of calls to customer service centres. It said passengers not travelling in the next 48 hours should call closer to the departure dates.

Customers with flight bookings for travel on or before 30 June 2020 can rebook their flights to any Emirates destination within the same region without a rebooking fee or paying any fare difference.

Customers who booked directly with Emirates can visit the Travel Voucher webpage and add “Refund request due to Coronavirus” in the comments section. Customers who booked with a travel agent must contact them for further assistance with their bookings.

UAE authorities announced on 23 March that all passenger flights, including transit flights, would be suspended 25 March for at least two weeks. Visitors are not allowed to enter the UAE until further notice.

THAILAND:Bangkok Airways Stops All International Flights Over Covid 19

Bangkok Airways has said it is temporarily suspending all international flights from today, 22 March, until further notice as the spread of the corona virus has crippled travel demand worldwide.

The carrier had earlier suspended many services to destinations in Thailand including the holiday island of Koh Samui in light of sharply reduced tourism.

The suspensions are now being expended to destinations across its network serving Cambodia where it has up to five flights a day, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

A full list of the suspended services and the dates on which they apply is published and updated regularly on the Bangkok Airways website.

In a statement released on Saturday, the carrier said that passengers can call its 24-hour call centre at 1771 or 270-6699 or Bangkok Airways ticket offices to receive a full refund.

Passengers who booked their tickets through travel agencies are advised to directly contact their agents for further assistance.

Earlier Vietnam Airlines and several other Vietnam based airlines had followed suit.

By closing borders to all except cargo, Asean countries are slowly but surely going into lock down mode by default. It first started with restrictions on incoming and outgoing passengers as deaths have started happening in several Asean countries while cases are spiking.

Two of Thailand’s airlines are suspending international flights while Thai Lion Air announced it would ground its entire fleet in Bangkok as travel demand to and around Thailand plummets.

Both Thai AirAsia and Bangkok Airways announced they were suspending all international flights at the weekend following service cuts announced last week. But at least for the immediate future, they are still flying domestic services.

Bangkok Airways made the announcement 21 March on its Facebook page rather than through press releases. It described the international flight cuts as a temporary suspension that would start 22 March “until further notice.”

Domestic services continue, but there are some reductions in the number of daily flights, and the airline has cancelled services to Chiang Rai.

Thai Lion Air was the first airline to announce it will suspend all flights both domestic and international from 25 March to 30 April 2020. It will see the airline ground 17 planes and lay off hundreds of cabin attendants.

Blaming the situation on the Covid-19 outbreak the airline says it will resume normal services on all routes from 1 May onwards, but that timeline could change considering the surge of Covid-19 cases in Thailand that soared to 600 on Sunday in just a few days following two weeks of reporting a relatively stable count of 40 to 50 cases.

Thai AirAsia confirmed it was halting all international flights from 22 March to 25 April 2020 to comply with the current Covid-19 epidemic control measures.

The airline says it will offer passengers the opportunity to rebook flights later in the year but not exceeding 180 days from the time of the original booking.

They can also store the fare as a credit that can be used to buy a fare before the end of the year.

However, reaching out to the airline is not so easy. The airline uses a virtual assistant or bot that replaced call centres and help-desk options some months back and customer response is less than favourable.

Complaints are piling up that the bot is overloaded and cannot process requests, leaving passengers with just one alternative. They have to visit the airline’s airport office and file a request for a refund or fee-free change to staff.

CAMBODIA: Battambang Province Is A Tourist Hot Spot

Battambang province has lured tourists both from Cambodia and overseas with its unique attractive spots – from ancient temples and other buildings to ecotourism.

Located some 300 kilometres north of Phnom Penh, the province is hosting this year’s annual river festival next month at which tourism products and services as well as locally made-products will be promoted widely.

More and more foreign tourists, particularly those from Western countries, have visited the province, viewinging the old buildings from the French colonial era, local people said.

As mentioned, ancient temples including Ek Phnom and Banan, as well as Phnom Sampov mountain, famed for its bat cave, are the most attractive spots for tourists, they said.

Soeun Ratha, owner of Holiday Guesthouse, located in Battambang town, said: “The number of foreign tourists visiting Battambang province has increased in recent years. Foreign tourists, mostly French, Spanish and Russian… like sightseeing the old buildings from French colonial era and their numbers keep increasing.”

Leaflets from the provincial tourism department of Battambang province show that among the tourism spots in the province is Prek Toal bird sanctuary on Tonle Sap lake.

Phoeung Than, a tourism police officer at Ek Phnom temple, said the number of foreign tourists is still not too many, but there are daily visitors from Cambodia and beyond, not in tour groups but as individuals.

He also said foreign tourists mostly stay in the province for a short while for an individual tour to explore the architecture styles of French-colony buildings and also to experience local people’s way of life, including agricultural practices.

Holiday Guesthouse owner Ratha expects more tourists both local people and foreign tourists will see the tourism potential of the province in the upcoming sixth river festival, which is annually organised in provinces with rivers.

Last year, Cambodia had 6.7 million foreign tourists, up 8 percent compared with 2018.

CAMBODIA: Abandoned Battambang Airport To Open Soon

Work on reopening the abandoned airport in Battambang province has started. Officials said it follows a call made by the government to open wider the gateway to the province, well-known for its agriculture.

Officials from the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), the country’s body in charge of aviation and local relevant officials in Battambang province, have started discussing details and have visited the airport, said SSCA’s spokesman Chea Aun.

“Work progress is under way and we want to make a specific development plan,” Aun said.

Premier Hun Sen last week announced his intention to reopen the airport, which he said would particularly help tourism. The PM asked local authorities to restrict building any high buildings near to the abandoned airport that may affect more development in the future.

However, Aun did not mention whether or not the operation of the airport will be granted to private companies to manage as is the case with the three international airports currently under the management of Cambodia Airports, a subsidiary of France-based Vinci Airports.

Battambang Airport once had the Kingdom’s busiest runways when it opened in 1968 but its fortunes took a downward turn in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came to power.

The small airfield, located three kilometres from Battambang’s city centre was reopened and used for civilian aircraft for a period of time until the end of the 1990s, but it never returned to full operational status.

Tourism Observer