Coronavirus: Korean Air CEO tells employees virus is 'threat' to airline's survival

The airline has had to cut 80 percent of its capacity.
The airline has had to cut 80 percent of its capacity. Photo credit: Airbus

The CEO of Korean Air says the coronavirus outbreak could threaten the airline's survival after travel to South Korea was restricted by more than half of the countries in the world.

Woo Kee-hong said more than 80 percent of the airline's capacity had been cut as a result of travel restrictions globally, compared with the 18 percent cut that was made during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

"We can easily imagine the severity of the crisis we are facing in comparison. And what is more daunting is that the situation can get worse at any time and we cannot even predict how long it will last," he said in an email to employees.

Woo said Korean Air had grounded about 100 of 145 its aircraft, as-well-as deferring investments, cutting down on operational expenses and encouraging employees to take voluntary leave.

"But if the situation continues for a longer period, we may reach the threshold where we cannot guarantee the company's survival," he said in the message which was leaked to the media.

Japan joined a number of countries to impose curbs on travellers from South Korea last week, adding to the woes of multiple Korean airlines, which have been among the hit hardest by flight cancellations worldwide.

As of Monday Korea has registered 7478 cases of coronavirus, making it one of the most severely affected countries outside mainland China. 

Korean Air's flights to New Zealand are currently suspended.