Why The Coronavirus May Pose More Risks To Aviation Than SARS Did

Featured in Forbes

By Khalid Usman and Douglas Carlucci
This article first appeared in Forbes on January 31, 2020.

The Wuhan coronavirus has proved less deadly so far than the infamous SARS pandemic that spread around the world in 2003. But if it were to graduate to a pandemic — and it is already spreading exponentially faster than SARS — this current strain has more potential to curb the outlooks for both aviation and the global economy than its predecessor did.

China has become the world’s largest outbound tourism market

For one thing, travel has made the world far more interconnected than in 2003, accelerating the rate of infection. China — the starting point for both viruses — has become the world’s largest outbound tourism market and one of the engines driving the global economy. In the intervening years since the SARS outbreak, global airline capacity into China is 3.8 times larger than it was in 2005. China flights now account for 12 percent of total worldwide available seat kilometers versus only five percent 15 years ago, according to, Oliver Wyman’s aviation data portal.

In 2003, because of the SARS outbreak, airlines worldwide saw a decline in traffic with those operating out of Asia Pacific losing as much as eight percent on an annual basis, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That amounts to a reduction of 39 billion revenue passenger kilometers — a standard metric for air traffic volume. The outbreak cost those airlines around $6 billion in lost revenue. In North America, the loss to airlines was around $1 billion as revenue passenger kilometers dropped 12.8 billion, or 3.7 percent of total international traffic, IATA reported.

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