Fear of flying: All we have to fear is fear itself October 2014
Many airline passengers are terrified of flying. It takes very little to upset confidence to the point that the passenger decides that flying is just too much hassle. In 2003 the SARS epidemic originating in China had a significant impact in Asia and North America. Now, in 2014, we have an outbreak of an horrendous haemorrhagic disease from the Ebola virus.
In 2003 the impact from SARS on the aviation industry was dramatic. It was a viral respiratory disease that was highly infectious and transmitted easily through airborne droplets. The confined spaces of an aircraft fuselage seemed to provide limited or no protection against the spluttering sneezes of fellow passengers in the early stages of the disease and air transport's very nature helped to disseminate it round the world. A large part of the outbreak involved the source in China and related travel through Hong Kong and throughout SE Asia — and people stopped travelling out of fear. At the depths of the crisis passenger demand among Asian airlines had fallen 50% year on year in RPK terms (see chart below). The total number of confirmed SARS cases according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) was just over 8,000 with a mortality rate of just under 10%. According to some estimates this had an impact of reducing global GDP growth in 2003 by ten basis points.
This time round we have an outbreak of a particularly nasty haemorrhagic virus in West Africa — Ebola. In this case the disease is highly contagious, but not particularly infectious, transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of those infected or deceased as a result of the infection. The likelihood of contagion on board an aircraft in these circumstances is highly unlikely — the contagious body is likely to be so ill as to make it exceedingly unlikely that he or she would be able physically to board the aircraft. So far there have been just over 13,000 confirmed or suspected infections and just under 5,000 deaths.
So far there has been little real reaction from the travelling masses. International passenger demand according to IATA figures may have been modestly affected (see chart below) on a localised basis --- but then African aviation only accounts for 4% of total air traffic demand.
Certainly some carriers have cancelled operations, particularly to the most affected areas of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, while some countries have imposed travel restrictions and passenger screening at border controls.
However, when an Ebola case was confirmed in the USA at the end of September — and then two further cases of local infection — there has been a bit of a panic, particularly in the US. The typical knee-jerk reaction of the stock markets was to extrapolate an effect on global aviation and to knock airline share prices by 5%.
Meanwhile, a recent survey in the US suggested that 40% of respondents now believed that there would be a major outbreak of Ebola in the US and that a quarter of respondents worry that someone in their immediate families will be infected within the next year.
|Impact on 2003 GDP