Asian airlines slash flights to Hong Kong as unrest escalates


By Jamie Freed

SYDNEY, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Several Asian airlines have cut flights to Hong Kong over the coming weeks, an industry scheduling publication showed, as anti-government protests in the city grow increasingly violent and disrupt daily life.

Routes Online said the latest schedules showed cancellations from PT Garuda Indonesia (Persero) Tbk GIAA.JK, India's SpiceJet Ltd SPJT.NS, Malaysia's AirAsia Group Bhd AIRA.KL, South Korea's JejuAir Co Ltd 089590.KS and Jin Air Co Ltd 272450.KS and the Philippines' PAL Holdings Inc PAL.PS and Cebu Air Inc CEB.PS.

The cuts come as Hong Kong police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters trying to escape a besieged university, while others armed with petrol bombs awaited an expected operation to oust them.

The unrest, raging for almost six months, and an escalating Sino-U.S. trade war has pushed the Asian financial hub into recession for the first time in a decade.

On Sunday, Airport Authority Hong Kong reported an October decline of 13% in passengers and 6.1% in the number of inbound and outbound flights - the steepest falls since the unrest began. It said a growing proportion of travellers were using Hong Kong as a transit point rather than a destination.

On Monday, Routes Online showed Garuda has reduced weekly flights to Hong Kong to four from 21 through mid-December, SpiceJet has suspended its Mumbai-Hong Kong route through Jan. 15 and AirAsia has cut flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu in December and January.

Garuda and SpiceJet did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment. AirAsia said passenger numbers have been lower over the past few months and that it is adjusting capacity accordingly.

A spokeswoman for PAL Holdings' Philippine Airlines said the carrier was using smaller planes than usual for Hong Kong as passengers were postponing travel due to safety concerns. It has also cut daily flights from Manila to four from five, she said.

A spokeswoman for Cebu Air's Cebu Pacific said the budget carrier has cut flights from Cebu and Clark through December and January respectively due to softened demand. She said the airline nevertheless launched its Puerto Princesa-Hong Kong route on Sunday as scheduled.

A Jeju Air spokesman said the low-cost carrier has reduced daily flights from Seoul to Hong Kong to one from two through Dec. 17 due to weak demand. A spokesman for rival Jin Air said the budget airline had suspended Seoul-Hong Kong flights through Dec. 24.

Last week, Hong Kong's biggest carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd 0293.HK, said its business outlook was "challenging and uncertain" and that it has cut capacity and delayed four plane deliveries due to falling demand.

Major mainland Chinese carriers also reported double-digit declines in demand on so-called regional routes in September and October amid protests in Hong Kong and travel restrictions to Taiwan, monthly traffic reports showed.

Routes Online on Monday said several Chinese carriers, including Air China Ltd 601111.SS, 0753.HK, China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd 600115.SS and China Southern Airlines Co Ltd 600029.SS had filed for fresh capacity reductions to Hong Kong since late October.

China Eastern declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. Air China and China Southern did not respond to requests for comment.

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(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Additional reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Heekyong Yang in Seoul and Jessica Damiana in Jakarta; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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