(Geneva) "This week Hong Kong and Thailand joined the government of Singapore in announcing far-reaching measures to support tourism, the world's largest employer, through its most difficult crisis. With many Asia/Pacific countries reporting tourist arrivals plummeting by more than 50% as a result of the SARS scare, governments must act quickly and decisively. Clearly these governments understand the great benefits that transport and tourism bring to their economies and have come to the industry's aid during its time of greatest need," commented Giovanni Bisignani, the Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). "What is clearly lacking in the case of Hong Kong and Thailand is some relief to the beleaguered airlines. They seem to have forgotten that without airlines, there will be no tourism industry to assist."

Hong Kong Needs to Do More

With the SARS crisis deepening, IATA stepped up its lobbying efforts to achieve reductions from airports and air traffic control (ATC) providers. Combined, these account for 10% of an airline's international operating costs. "Airports and air traffic control providers are our partners. What we are saying is quite simple: You, the airports and ATC providers, cannot remain healthy for long if your customers are haemorrhaging red ink. Airlines are cutting costs wherever they can and airport/ATC charges cannot be an exception. Bear your share of the burden and we will all return to health that much more quickly," explained Bisignani.

"Airlines lost over US$30 billion since September 11. We were at our weakest when war broke out in Iraq and SARS hit Asia/Pacific. The combined result has been devastating. I have personally written to Tung Chee Hwa, Chief Executive of Hong Kong to urge consideration of relief for beleaguered airlines serving Hong Kong. "Hong Kong is by far the worst hit by the SARS crisis. It is time for leadership. Carriers at Hong Kong need relief on charges and they need it now. Singapore and Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong's neighbours and competitors, have already acted. Hong Kong needs to catch up quickly."

Seoul/Incheon and Tokyo/Narita Are Not Immune

IATA is also seeking reductions at Tokyo and Seoul. Bisignani went on to say that "our long-standing mission to get a reduction of Narita's high charges is now urgent. Recently released, severely depressed Golden Week bookings data clearly shows that Japan is impacted by the SARS crisis. We hope that the Japanese authorities will see this as an opportunity to provide a meaningful relief in user charges."

Seoul's newly constructed Incheon International Airport (IIAC) is also on IATA's list for charges relief. "Incheon is the newest of Asia's hub airports and has grown rapidly since opening just over two years ago. While carriers are still establishing their operations at Incheon, it is critical that IIAC demonstrate its willingness to work with its customers, in good times and bad. Charges relief is essential at this time, and I have explained this in a letter to the Korean Ministry of Transport and Construction."