S&P Global Ratings estimates that novelty coronavirus, Covid-19, outbreak would only have a limited impact on European airports, as traffic to and from China and other countries in Asia Pacific region make up relatively small numbers of the total traffic in Europe. However, if the outbreak prolongs or causes further economic impact, the situation might change. 

The S&P Global Ratings report is based on the presumption that the infection outbreak would be contained in March 2020, following a peak in late February/early March 2020. However, as a possible spread and peak timing of Covid-19 currently is not known for a fact, it could cause further disruption to air travel. “The impact is difficult to assess without knowing how many destinations may be subject to flight suspensions, the economic implications of such suspensions, and the wider global macroeconomic impact,” as outlined in the report.

European airports have low connections with Asia

Flight cancelations of up to three months to China and Asia Pacific are unlikely to materially affect the credit metrics of the European airports, the results of S&P Global Ratings stress test indicate. 

This is mostly related to the fact that the airports examined have only low-to-moderate exposure to Asia Pacific traffic. For instance, the airport that is the most reliant on Chinese or other Asian passengers is London Heathrow. Here, people travelling to or from the region make up 14%, while traffic to and from China makes up only 2%. The exposure is even lower at the other European airport hubs, the report indicates. 

SARS lessons: aviation resilient to epidemics  

Another reason that prompts optimism by S&P Global Ratings is the fact that previous epidemics had little influence on the aviation industry. For instance, during the outbreak of SARS in 2003, most of the rated airports demonstrated relative resilience, as outlined in the report. 

A similar conclusion can also be found in IATA’s economics overview dated January 24, 2020. Following SARS outbreak, monthly international passenger traffic returned to its pre-crisis level within nine months. “While there are risks that this outbreak could cause a sizeable disruption, history indicates that any effect on air transport would be temporary,” as stated by IATA.

The researchers looked at Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly, Schiphol, Aeroporti di Roma, Zurich, Avinor (Norwegian state-owned company that operates most of the civil airports in the country), Gatwich, daa (commercial semi-state owned company in Ireland that operates Dublin Airport and Cork Airport) airports. 

Coronavirus spread in Europe

There have been 45,171 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus Covid-19, including 2,068 deaths, according to World Health Organization (as of February 12, 2020). While China remains the most affected country (44,730 confirmed cases), the virus has been detected in multiple other Asian countries, as well as Australia, North America and Europe. The risk assessment on global level is rated “high”. 

The number of coronavirus confirmed cases in Europe was 43, based on the latest data (as of February 11, 2020) provided by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Following the detection of the first Covid-19 case in France, there has now been 14 cases detected in Germany, 11 in France, 8 in the United Kingdom, three in Italy, 2 in both Spain and Russia, as well as 1 case in each Belgium, Finland and Sweden.

Based on information provided by IATA, only two countries in Europe have imposed additional travel limitations due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Since February 6, 2020, Russia does not allow Chinese nationals traveling to Kaliningrad (KGD), St. Petersburg (LED) or Vladivostok (VVO) to obtain an e-visa. As of February 7, 2020, Kosovo does not allow Chinese nationals to enter the country. Exceptions are applied to airline crew and people traveling with a medical certificate proving they are free from Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov).