DOHA (Reuters) -Hong Kong has lost its position as a global aviation hub due to China’s zero-COVID policy, the head of airlines group IATA said on Wednesday, warning the industry’s recovery from the pandemic would be slowed if Beijing continued its restrictions next year.
Attending an International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference in the Qatari capital Doha, IATA Director General Willie Walsh said China’s zero-COVID policy had “devastated” Hong Kong and hit airline Cathay Pacific hard.
“Cathay Pacific is a shadow of its former self as a result. Hong Kong has lost its position as a global hub and will struggle to regain it because other hubs have taken advantage of it,” he said, blaming government policies, not the virus.
Hong Kong is traditionally a major hub where passengers transit between international flights and on journeys to China, and is the base of Cathay Pacific.
The pace of the recovery in global passenger demand has picked up over the northern hemisphere summer, with airline executives attributing higher than expected demand to a surge of people keen to travel after two years of restrictions.
But the recovery has been uneven, with China continuing to enforce tight COVID-19 related border and social curbs.
Walsh said IATA was closely watching for any indications that China would ease its restrictions, and said there had previously been expectations there would be changes this year.
If the restrictions continue next year, the industry will suffer.
“It clearly will have an impact on the overall strength of the recovery,” Walsh told reporters.
(Reporting by Andrew MillsWriting by Alexander CornwellEditing by Mark Potter)