US airlines are getting ready for a nationwide domestic flight shutdown, due to the coronavirus outbreak drastically lowering passenger numbers and limiting staff in the air traffic control system, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous industry and federal officials. It could be a voluntary industry initiative or government-mandated.
The carriers are planning for the eventuality as they cancel flights because of a lack of passengers, making their operations less financially viable, but no final decisions have been made, the report noted.
Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain their gear, are also feeling a strain because more of them are testing positive for the virus, forcing some to stay home and facilities to be closed for cleaning, the Journal reported. Either factor could force the issue, or the White House may order it in effort to halt the virus' spread. President Donald Trump has been giving daily briefings on the outbreak.
The new strain of coronavirus, which can develop into a respiratory illness known as COVID-19, was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December and has spread worldwide in the months since. As of Tuesday morning, it had infected more than 387,000 people and caused over 16,000 deaths globally. The US has more than 46,000 confirmed cases.
Neither Airlines for America (the domestic carriers' trade association), American Airlines, Delta Airlines nor United Airlines immediately responded to requests for comment.
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