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Flights cut as downturn puts empty seats in business class

FOREIGN airlines from Asia to Scandinavia, from Australia to the United States are cutting flights or canceling routes to Shanghai and other Chinese cities as the global economic slowdown dampens passenger demand.

Carriers are adjusting their networks and focusing on profitable routes as a result of falling ticket sales, especially among business travelers, as a result of the decline in commercial activity and international trade.

Business travel across the world continued to fall sharply in December, with first-class and business-class seat sales slumping 13.3 percent from a year earlier, the International Air Transport Association said yesterday.

Among those cutting back, Singapore Airlines will drop four weekly flights between Beijing and Singapore from its current 21 starting in April. Flights to Guangzhou will be cut from seven to five a week, and flights to Nanjing from three to two.

The carrier plans to retire 17 aircraft this year, well above the four planes previously slated before the global recession hit. Company officials said the goal is to cut passenger capacity by 11 percent.

"The drop in air transportation has been sharp and swift ... We have to face the reality that 2009 is going to be a very difficult year," Chief Executive Officer Chew Choon Seng said in a statement.

Australia's Qantas Airways said it will shut down its twice-a-week flights from Shanghai to Melbourne starting on March 31 and end its thrice-weekly Beijing-Sydney services on April 17.

However, the company said it will increase its flights from Sydney to Shanghai to daily runs from the current five flights a week starting on March 31.

"Airlines around the world are confronting significantly changed operating conditions and have to ensure capacity is best matched to demand," said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

"We are reluctantly making changes to our China and India schedules but will continue to offer significant capacity into both countries, as they remain important business and leisure markets," Joyce said.

Among the others reducing capacity, Scandinavian Airlines will suspend its two-year-old service between Beijing and Stockholm starting on May 1 because of the waning demand.

Japan Airlines scaled back service between Shanghai and Narita Airport from 28 weekly flights to 21 on January 20, and flights between Beijing and Narita were trimmed from 19 to 14 a week.

All Nippon Airways ceased Dalian-Kansai service on February 2 and cut flights from Narita to Shanghai from 21 to 14 a week.

US-based Delta Air Lines last year reduced its Shanghai-Atlanta flights from seven to five weekly.

US Airways and American Airlines have delayed by one year the launch of service between China and America.


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