Video: Countries scramble to aid ailing airlines

Governments around the world are scrambling to aid airlines battered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the accompanying video. ©2020 Thomson Reuters

It's a sign of just how bad things are for airlines. On Wednesday [March 18] Ryanair — Europe's biggest budget carrier — said it would ground almost all its planes from next week. Just a handful of flights, mostly between the UK and Ireland, will continue.

The move comes as countries around the world rush to prop up airlines battered by the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday EU transport ministers discussed whether to offer carriers tax relief. Australia said it would waive or refund hundreds of millions of dollars in fees paid by airlines. And Taiwan said air travel firms there could apply for subsidies and loans backdated to mid-January.

Those just the latest in a long list of interventions worldwide. US airlines have asked for $50 billion in grants and loans, plus tens of billions in tax relief. In Scandinavia SAS has got over $300 million in credit guarantees from Sweden and Denmark. Struggling Norwegian Air Shuttle is asking Oslo for something similar.

But even that kind of aid won't be enough for some. Italy — Europe's worst-hit country — is taking control of Alitalia. No big surprise, perhaps, when the company is a perennial lossmaker.

But experts fear much stronger airlines will fail. The International Air Transport Association says the sector needs about $200 billion in assistance.

There is one bright spot, though. Fuel costs are tumbling, with US crude futures sinking to 18-year lows on Wednesday. That's not much help for airline bosses, though, when their planes aren't flying.