January 29, 2020 / 4:15 AM / 20 days ago

Qantas could axe Beijing route early as coronavirus hits demand - CEO

FILE PHOTO: Qantas aircraft are seen on the tarmac at Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Australia, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Qantas Airways Ltd (QAN.AX) Chief Executive Alan Joyce said on Wednesday it was too early for the airline to quantify the financial impact of China’s coronavirus epidemic on its business but it was reviewing whether to end Beijing flights early.

Qantas in November said it was axing its underperforming Sydney-Beijing route from March due to stiff competition from Chinese airlines and weak business class demand.

“We continue to review that, continue to review the loads, and whether we look to do that earlier, or keep it operating until that date,” Joyce told reporters at the opening of a new pilot training school in Queensland, according to a transcript provided to Reuters.

He said the most similar comparison to coronavirus was the SARS epidemic in 2003, which cost the carrier A$55 million (28.61 million pounds) in lost earnings over a six to eight month period and led it to cut some international capacity.

UBS analysts on Tuesday estimated Qantas could take an earnings hit of A$204 million to A$513 million in the 2021 financial year depending on traffic declines as a result of the coronavirus.

Joyce said he did not comment on analyst reports as a rule but noted that UBS assumed a much worse financial impact than the airline had experienced from SARS.

He added that a fall in the oil price over the past month was benefiting the airline and the carrier did not expect a material financial impact from widespread bushfires in Australia that have hit the local tourism industry.

Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Richard Pullin

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