Trade reacts to MH17 tragedy

INTERNATIONAL airlines that ply the same route taken by Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) MH17 are altering their courses in the aftermath of the tragedy. However, travel consultants have reported no immediate cancellations for MAS.

Major operators over Ukrainian-Russian airspace are airlines that run services between Asia and Europe and many quickly moved to use alternative, albeit marginally longer routings.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China has directed all Chinese carriers to do the same and others including Singapore Airlines (SIA), Thai Airways International, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific Airways, EVA Air, Korean Airlines, Asiana Airlines, and carriers from the Middle East, Turkey and Russia are similarly taking such measures.

Aviation bodies are stepping in. The US Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Notice to Airman prohibiting operation over Eastern Ukraine, while EU air traffic control regulator Eurocontrol has closed the airspace and is working on routes that would bypass the country.

The UK has also called on the UN to lead the investigation while offering the expertise of its Aircraft Accident Investigation Board.

Kuala Lumpur-bound MH17 departed Amsterdam at 12.15 local time yesterday but lost contact with Ukrainian Air Traffic Control at 14.15 GMT time, crashing near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. None of the 298 people on board survived the crash (TTG Asia e-Daily, July 18, 2014).

But travel consultants in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have not seen any knee-jerk cancellations or postponements despite MAS’ offer to waive charges for travel date changes.

Dynasty Travel Singapore’s marketing communications director, Alicia Seah, said the travel agency had received calls raising concerns about the air routes taken out of Europe, but no cancellations.

“We are now soliciting updates from the airlines to provide us the precise and accurate information so that we can update our passengers accordingly. Currently our national carrier SIA and Turkish Airlines have indicated that they do not fly that airspace.”

Jeremiah Wong, senior executive of marketing and communications at Chan Brothers Travel, said: “As of this morning, we have not had any calls of concern, cancellations of booking or requests to switch flight from those who are booked on MAS. We utilise MAS less in our package tours and more for free-and-easy customers or those purchasing air tickets alone.

“Furthermore, the handful of July bookings that we have on MAS at the moment are flying to Asia and Australia and not flying through the route in question.”

In Malaysia, two outbound travel consultants do not expect cancellations. Fairuz Fauzy, general manager, Q Partner Travel & Tours Kuala Lumpur, commented: “It was no fault of MAS that the plane went down. I don’t think the incident will shatter the confidence that Malaysians have with the national carrier. It has the most direct connections to Europe. Some may defer their travel plans a little because of the shock. No one expected this catastrophe.”

Another consultant, Adam Kamal, general manager of Rakyat Travel Kuala Lumpur, explained: “Malaysians know that the airline was not to be blamed for the incident. It is also the Muslim fasting month and a slow period for outbound travel from Malaysia. Travel bookings will rebound after Hari Raya.”

However, Loo Eng Wah, managing director of Phuket-based Pristina Tours, predicted: “We will definitely see impacts on MAS bookings, especially on mid- and longhaul flights to China or Europe, although I don’t foresee much impact on shorthaul flights between Thailand and Malaysia.

“However, people’s psychology will definitely be affected by these incidents and wonder if there’s anything like ‘third time lucky’? But whether MAS will survive (in the foreseeable future) is another question.”

Additional reports from Paige Lee Pei Qi, S Puvaneswary and Xinyi Liang-Pholsena.

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