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Coronavirus could push airlines to merge – Air France-KLM boss

File photo of an Air France Boeing 777 aircraft taking off at the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, in Roissy-en-France. (AFP PHOTO-KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)

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

“There are quite a few weak carriers around the world,” Benjamin Smith said at the association’s annual meeting. “I believe this will accelerate consolidation”.

Dozens of airlines scaled back or halted flights to China in January as the coronavirus outbreak that causes COVID-19 gained steam in the country, with people reluctant to travel and governments erecting travel restrictions.

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

“It’s clear we have yet to see the full effect of the COVID-19 on the air transport sector,” said Smith.

Last month, the International Air Transport Association said that airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose a combined $27.8 billion of revenue this year owing to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Governments have come under mounting pressure to help support businesses as the outbreak disrupts the economy.

“Any taxes which could be limited or temporarly lifted would be appeciated by the industry,” said Smith.

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

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