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Emirates suspends passenger flights as UAE halts air travel

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An Airbus A380-800 passenger plane of the Emirates Airlines at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport.

Mikhail Tereshchenko | TASS | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai-based Emirates Airline is suspending all passenger flights from March 25 for a renewable period of two weeks as the United Arab Emirates halts all inbound, outbound and transit passenger flights in its effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus. 

“As per the latest UAE government directive, Emirates will temporarily suspend all passenger flights for 2 weeks from 25 March 2020,” Emirates said in a statement Monday morning.

“These measures are in place for the protection of communities against the spread of COVID-19, and we are in full support. We look forward to resuming passenger services as soon as feasible. Affected customers should visit emirates.com for more information on rebooking or contact their travel agents for assistance.”

The move comes after multiple contradictory announcements on Sunday night, with Emirates initially announcing a total flight suspension and then reversing course within hours due to “requests from governments,” instead announcing it would suspend “most” of its flights.

With Monday’s official ban on all passenger flights, even for transit, by the UAE’s Civil Aviation Authority, Emirates is now completely suspending its passenger flights for two weeks beginning Wednesday, subject to review and renewal.

Cargo and emergency evacuation flights will be exempt, the UAE’s Civil Aviation Authority said, “taking into consideration all the precautionary measures adopted as per the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and Prevention.”

Emirates airline is the world’s largest operator of wide-body jets and the fourth-largest in terms of passenger and freight ton miles flown. Dubai Airport in 2019 was ranked as the world’s largest hub in terms of passenger traffic.

The news comes amid mounting national lockdowns, border closures and flight groundings as coronavirus cases climb around the world. The UAE has confirmed 153 coronavirus cases, with 38 recoveries and two deaths. 

Cost-cutting, slashing capacity as airlines get hammered

Emirates Group said Sunday that it will not cut jobs, but will implement a temporary reduction in basic salary for the majority of its employees for three months, ranging from 25% to 50%.

“Pay cuts are across the board except junior level staff. But it is only on basic salaries. Flying pay isn’t affected by the announced cuts,” a representative from the company told CNBC.

Cost-cutting measures being undertaken by the group beyond the salary cuts include postponing or canceling discretionary spending, freezing all non-essential recruitment and consultancy work, encouraging employees to take paid or unpaid leave, and a 100% basic salary cut for Emirates and airport services provider dnata’s presidents Tim Clark and Gary Chapman.

The decision for the airline, one of the world’s largest in terms of passenger miles flown, means a significant hit to jet fuel demand in the region. Globally, major airlines are slashing services as demand screeches to a halt while people are urged to stay at home and self-isolate to slow the spread of the virus.

American Airlines last week announced a 75% cut to its operations, while United plans to cut 90% of international services scheduled for April. Singapore Airlines is its cutting capacity by 96%.

British Airways is cutting its flight capacity by 75% for April and May, and Turkish Airlines, the world’s largest in terms of passenger destinations, has said that 85% of its passenger planes are not being used. Major airlines in the U.S. have asked the government for more than $50 billion in rescue funds to avoid furloughing thousands of workers.

“The speed and degradation of the business has been just mind boggling,” Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of the trade association Airlines for America, which represents the country’s leading airlines, told CNBC on Monday.

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