A growing number of countries have terminated air services to the Ebola infected West African states of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. More stoppages might follow since the disease is rapidly spreading and has even been identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo, located more than 2,000 kilometers south of the mostly affected regions. Being cut off from external food, medical and industrial supply has caused first shortages in the stricken countries.
There are hardly any freighter or passenger aircraft landing at Conakry’s Gbessia Airport, Monrovia’s Roberts International or Lungi Airport at Sierra Leone’ capital Freetown these days. Why? Because non-Ebola hit states want to take no risk to import the plague by flying in an infected passenger. Nor do they want to endanger their airline crews by having flight attendants or cockpit personnel getting unnoticed and involuntarily in contact with any infected person.
Meanwhile Senegal has stopped all air, sea and road transports to neighboring Guinea despite a reported first case of Ebola within the country. Similarly have Zambia and the Ivory Coast issued bans on air travel between their territories and the West African countries in which Ebola outbreaks have occurred. Nigeria, being affected by the pandemic itself, has suspended all flight by Gambia Bird Airlines into its airports, criticizing the carrier’s insufficient steps to contain the spread of the disease. Although no cases of Ebola are reported in Gambia, carrier Gambia Bird is serving the stricken countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
British Airways has also decided to cancel some flights to West African destinations due to the Ebola pandemic.
WHO opposes air bans
In a first reaction to the increasing number of air embargoes the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement: “There should be no general ban on international travel or trade,” adding that states should provide travelers to Ebola affected and at-risk areas with relevant information on risks, measures to minimize the risk and advice for managing potential exposure.
So does carrier Brussels Airlines, assures spokesperson Wencke Lemmes-Pireaux. “We are monitoring the situation constantly by getting an update from our local West African stations every four hours.” She goes on to say that Brussels Airlines is in direct contact both with the WHO and the local African authorities to minimize all risks. In addition, all crews are instructed of what to do if there are indications that a passenger might be infected. “If this unlikely case should happen despite all precaution measures taken by the airport authorities and the controls on elevated temperature all air traveler are required to undergo prior to boarding any aircraft, our cabin crews isolate the person immediately to minimize the risk of contamination, not without protecting themselves according to instructions.”
From health crisis to economic crisis
In a statement Moody’s Rating Agency warns that the suspension of flights by a growing number of airlines “will exact an economic toll” on the entire region. This is evidenced by enterprises in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia that halted operations due to fears of fever that is caused by contact with bodily fluids. Steel producer ArcorMittal announced the contractors at its iron ore works in Liberia were pulling out their stuff and halt operations.
Hotel bookings in the countries affected by the virus went down by 30 percent in August. Fields have been abandoned by farmers with crops such as cocoa or coffee left to their fate. Due to dwindling air services urgently needed spare parts or components for keeping industrial firms running came largely to a stop. This also holds true for imported consumer goods, foodstuff and beverages. But beside these mounting shortages the region’s biggest problem might be the long-term pull-out of international companies. “Our economy has been deflated by 30% because of Ebola," Sierra Leone's Agriculture Minister Joseph Sam Sesay told the BBC. There, twelve out of thirteen districts are now affected by Ebola, without hope of improvement.
Cargolux doubles crews and increases rates
As reaction to the spreading disease Luxembourg’s flag carrier has changed its layover practices on the roundtrips to sub-Saharan destinations. “Instead of accommodating our people at local hotels after their flight duty ends at our African destinations, we decided to leave them on board our aircraft where they can take their rest in the crew cabins aboard the freighters,” explains CEO Dirk Reich. For this reason CV had to double their cockpit personnel on each trip to and from Africa, urging the crews not to leave the aircraft while being parked at an airport and to avoid any contact with local ground handling personnel. CV even considers equipping their crews with protective clothing to prevent any risks of Ebola contamination.
All this leads to higher costs. That’s why Cargolux intends upping the rates next month.