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HomeNewsVirgin Atlantic Quitting Hong Kong Deals Blow to Aviation Hub’s Revival

Virgin Atlantic Quitting Hong Kong Deals Blow to Aviation Hub’s Revival


HONG KONG—Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said it would close its office in Hong Kong and end flight service to and from London’s Heathrow Airport, a sign of the hurdles facing the Chinese city as it seeks to regain its reputation as an aviation hub.

Virgin, which has operated in Hong Kong for nearly 30 years, said complexities stemming from the closure of Russian airspace contributed to its decision to end its service. The airline previously said it would resume Heathrow-to-Hong Kong service in March 2023 after suspending service in December 2021.

The announcement underscores the challenges facing Hong Kong as it seeks to re-connect with the world following years of harsh zero-Covid border policies that led to a collapse in its air passenger traffic. Last month, the city scrapped its longstanding hotel quarantine requirement for arrivals, but inbound travelers still face numerous restrictions and testing requirements and travel has yet to pick up significantly.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added additional disruption to airlines crossing the globe. Numerous Western countries have closed their airspace to Russian aircraft in recent months, prompting reciprocal measures from Russia that has shut off a crucial corridor for many long-haul flights, particularly between Europe and Asia.

Willie Walsh,

the head of the International Air Transport Association, said at a media briefing in Doha last month that Hong Kong had lost its status as a global aviation hub due to China’s zero-Covid policy, and said that other hubs have taken advantage of the damage to the city.

Home to flagship carrier

Cathay Pacific,

Hong Kong was a major hub for travelers to and from Asia before the pandemic, particularly for people going between mainland China and the West. In July, Hong Kong International Airport opened a much-anticipated third runway, which was at the time of its approval the most expensive infrastructure project since the city was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Traffic has plummeted due to border restrictions. Hong Kong International Airport handled 2.4 million passengers in the 12 months through August, more than doubling from the same period a year earlier, but well below the 74.8 million passengers that it handled during the comparable period in 2019, according to official statistics.

While other places in Asia like Singapore have opened borders and experienced rebounds this year, Hong Kong largely kept its restrictions in place, in keeping with mainland China’s tougher anti-Covid measures.

The city’s Covid restrictions have included a hotel quarantine requirement for inbound travelers that topped out at 21 days, one of the world’s longest. Authorities cut the quarantine requirement to three days over the summer before scrapping it last month.

Write to Dan Strumpf at [email protected]

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