ASIAN AIRLINES RESTORE FLIGHTS AS SARS FEAR EASESManila, June 6, 2003 Airlines all over Asia are preparing to restore flights following the easing of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) health scare, aviation industry executives in the region said Thursday. Travel agencies said there has been a perceptible rise in bookings after recent developments indicated that the SARS epidemic was being put under control in the region. The World Health Organization (WHO) has removed Singapore from its list of areas with recent local transmissions of SARS following the delisting of Vietnam and the Philippines. Warnings against travel to Hong Kong and southern China's Guangdong province, which are still on the list of areas with recent infections, have also been lifted after they took steps to contain the spread of the virus. The WHO, however, still advises against unnecessary travel to Taiwan and several areas in China. Fear of catching the pneumonia-like disease has kept leisure and business travelers away from East Asia since March, battering related industries. The region accounts for most of the nearly 800 SARS deaths out of more than 8,000 infections worldwide. "I think you can say the worst is over given the (stable) SARS situaion now," SIA vice president for marketing Huang Cheng Eng said. Malaysia Airlines said it would increase flights to Hong Kong gradually after the WHO lifted its a travel advisory on the territory. It had earlier trimmed its 12 weekly flights to Hong Kong to four. South Korea's largest flag carrier Korean Air said it planned to restore from June 7 the route between Incheon and the Japanese city of Nagasaki, which was stopped in March. In July, flight services would be restored between Dubai and Cairo but the company said it would watch the situation before resuming slashed flights to China and Southeast Asia. A spokeswoman for Thai Airways said daily flights to North America, which have been reduced to thrice weekly, would resume from June 15. Taiwan's leading air carrier China Ailines (CAL) said they have seen demand picking up. "Believe it or not, our flights to and from the resorts of Phuket and Bali have been fully booked," CAL spokesman Roger Han told AFP in Taipei. CAL capacity is currently down about 20 percent, compared with the peak reduction of 30 percent about two weeks ago. Air China serviced 119 flights and 12,000 passengers out of Beijing International Airport on Tuesday, compared to only 45 flights and 2,055 passengers on May 8, when the SARS scare reached its peak, state-run media said. Australian flag carrier Qantas said it had no plans to restore capacity cuts announced last month. Qantas cut its international capacity by almost 25 percent, returned three leased aircraft and deferred about a billion Australian dollars (650 million US dollars) in capital expenditure. Lisa Wong, spokeswoman for Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific, said the airline has no immediate plans to restore capacity cuts, saying: "We still believe the rebuilding of air travel comes step by step." Japan Airlines spokeswoman Yoshie Otaka said travel from Asia to the South Pacific, United States, Europe and the Middle East is either at or above pre-SARS levels, he said. At the same time, he cautioned that "as long as China and Taiwan are facing outbreaks, travelers from outside Asia may still feel uncomfortable returning to Asia."
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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