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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Global air travel shut down
airport departure board
Air travel into the United States has been suspended
Airports worldwide were clogged with stranded passengers as flights to the United States were halted following the attacks on New York and Washington by hijacked planes.

On Wednesday, Asia's major airports and airlines were disrupted as airport authorities in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Taiwan and South Korea grounded flights.

Tokyo's Narita international airport said on Wednesday that 170 flights would be cancelled, while Hong Kong international airport said 14 flights had been halted.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, Asia's fourth-biggest airline, has suspended all flights to the United States and Canada.

Commercial losses

America's 15,000 airports will remain closed until at least noon (1600 GMT) on Wednesday following the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center using four hijacked passenger jets.

US flights make up 25% of business for some major Asian airlines, according to Salomon Smith Barney airline analyst Tiffany Co.

"I would assume there is going to be disruption everywhere", she said.

Japan Airlines has cancelled 32 flights and All Nippon Airlines eight.

Almost immediately following the attacks, federal authorities cleared US airspace of the 4,000 aircraft typically in the sky on a weekday morning, ordering planes in flight to land at the nearest airport.

And even once airports do reopen, stringent security of a kind unfamiliar to most US domestic air travellers but well-known to fliers elsewhere is now likely to be a fixture.

It will be "slow going" getting the nation's air system back into action, said Federal Aviation Authority spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere.

"This is unprecedented," she said.

Diverted

Flights en route to the US on Tuesday were ordered to fly elsewhere, with many being diverted to Canada, where Air Canada suspended all its flights.

Canada's government later closed Canadian airports - now full to bursting with stranded passengers - to all aircraft except incoming flights already diverted from the US and "those flights required for humanitarian purposes".

"Transport Canada is on highest alert," said Transportation Minister David Collenette.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and take whatever action is necessary."

BA and Lufthansa cancel

United Airways, the US airline which lost two flights on Tuesday, said it had grounded all its flights worldwide, as did American Airlines, which also lost two flights.

Among European carriers, British Airways cancelled all flights to and from the US for the rest of Tuesday, with some America-bound aeroplanes turned around mid-flight.

The UK government, meanwhile, banned all commercial air traffic from flying over the capital, London, as did Belgian authorities with planes due to pass above Brussels.

All Lufthansa flights from Germany were cancelled, while Iberia ordered its four planes en-route to the US to fly to Canada or return to Spain.

Air France cancelled seven flights and ordered another seven to return.

Sabena and Finnair called back their flights while Scandinavian Airlines System ordered four US bound flights to instead land in Iceland.

Poland's LOT Airlines cancelled its flights to the US and Canada and ordered two planes en route to turn back.

And almost half the 354 international flights scheduled to leave Tokyo's Narita Airport on Wednesday have now been cancelled.

Congestion

European airports quickly clogged up as flights were cancelled and diverted and security operations stepped up, while other staff tried to comfort distressed passengers.

Airline industry shares slip:
British Airways: Down 21.21%
Easyjet: Down 11.46%
BAA: Down 16.42%

BAA, the owner of seven UK airports including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted serving London, has suspended flights to the US.

In America, congestion will be a serious problem as well.

Under normal circumstances a large proportion of its planes would be in the air at any point in time.

Space at airports is scarce, so landing planes within a narrow timeframe presents huge logistical difficulties.

Airline shares fall

As is often the case, traders in the financial markets were the first to react, trading on the bad news.

In London, shares in airlines and other travel industry firms fell sharply, with British Airways, BAA, Ryanair, and EasyJet all losing ground.

BA shares dropped 21%, while Lufthansa and Air France lost 17% and 16% respectively.

On Wall Street, where shares in American airlines and travel firms would normally be traded, dealing was suspended following the attacks.

Tourism

The attacks are expected to hit severely future bookings to the US, as tourists stay away.

Tuesday's UK travel and leisure sell off
British Airways,
-21.2%
Hilton Group,
-21.0%
P&O Princess Cruises, -15.1%
BAA, -16.4%
Six Continents,
-14.8%
Thistle Hotels,
-11.6%
EasyJet, -11.5%

Share price falls, Tuesday

First Choice and Airtours are among firms reviewing their holidays to US resorts.

"It is our focus to ensure the safety of our customers and staff and we will be reviewing our flying programme with the authorities," said a spokesman.

Tourism industries in countries outside the US are also expected to feel the effect as American tourists cut back on their international holidays.

As seen during the Gulf War, US tourists are likely to be concerned about becoming targets of terrorists when travelling outside their home country.

Luxury travel firms such as P&O Princess Cruises saw their shares fall as traders anticipated that customers would begin cancelling holidays.

"There is potentially a bigger kind of impact on people's perceptions of the safety of flying," said one airlines analyst.

"It could have an impact on demand that goes beyond the one-off impact of a crash."

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