Coronavirus could push airlines to merge: Air France-KLM chief

BRUSSELS: The spread of the coronavirus could force weak airlines to merge with their competitors, the head of Air France-KLM and the A4E association of European airlines said on Tuesday.

There are quite a few weak operators worldwide, said Benjamin Smith at the association's annual meeting. I think this will accelerate consolidation.

Dozens of airlines reduced or suspended flights to China in January when the coronavirus outbreak gained strength in the country, with people reluctant to travel and governments imposing travel restrictions.

Last week, airlines moved to reduce flights to Italy, where the biggest outbreak in Europe is happening.

It is clear that we still have to see the full effect of COVID-19 in the air transport sector, Smith said.

Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region could lose a combined revenue of $ 27.8 billion this year due to the current coronavirus crisis.

Governments have been under increasing pressure to help support businesses as the outbreak disrupts the economy.

Any tax that could be limited or temporarily raised would be appreciated by the industry, Smith said.

The A4E association includes 16 European airlines, including Air France-KLM, easyJet, IAG (owner of British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and Veuling), Lufthansa and Ryanair.