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Domestic Airspace Closure? U.S. considering the possibility

As cases of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) continue to escalate several sources have confirmed that the U.S. Government is considering the idea of U.S. Airspace closure for domestic flights.

Update: The President confirms the possibility in today’s Press Conference

The question comes in the Press Conference in minute 49. Credit CNBC/YouTube

Washington – U.S. Officials have considered the possibility of closing the domestic U.S. Airspace because of the coronavirus. Update: Although the President feels fine as of now, the situation might change. So stay tuned!

This could become the second time in the history of the United States after 9/11 that such a drastic measure has happened.

Tweets about a possible domestic airspace closure are trickling out at this time. Twitter.

It would become the first time for a pandemic

The National Airspace System (NAS) closed on September 11, for 72 hours. There were several authorizations within 48 hours. Similarly, these aircraft were diverted to Canada in Operation Yellow Ribbon. In the last attempt, the FAA did what it could to reestablish order.

Its order was simple but difficult to execute, landing 4,000 aircraft anywhere immediately.

This time around, unlike for a terrorist attack the closure of domestic airspace implementation for a pandemic (coronavirus) would be a first.

Its origins stem from an exercise from the 1970s called Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids (SCATANA). Hopefully, if push comes to shove 9/11 has given us time to update those procedures.

If given the Order, Execution Time would be quick

On September 11 it only took a couple of hours to close the airspace. I am sure after 9/11 the military and the FAA are better prepared for when the order comes.

Spectacular timelapse of Airspace Closure on 9/11. Video: Smithsonian/YouTube

If the order were to come this time around the decision would come from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the U.S. President and its advisors.

Whereas there was confusion the first time around this pandemic is getting more virulent. The decision would be clearer on what to do.

Update: Since international travel is down if the order comes the execution would come very quickly. As of this update, Europe and Australia have given their corresponding orders to close their airspace.

For airlines, it would be kicking them while they are down

Airlines are severely affected by this. Virgin Atlantic would be asking the U.K. Government for $9.2 billion (£7.5 Billion Pound) to prop the industry according to a report.

Additionally, this is the worst in terms of canceled schedules percentages around the world. It is worse than 9/11. Many of the airlines have their schedules decreased by 50%. European schedules have decreased by as much as 90%.

If the U.S. Government imposes a “Ground Stop” (Domestic Airspace Closure) many of these airlines will lose money along with its supporting industries.

Bottom Line

American Citizens out of state need to realize that a domestic travel ban is coming. Its time to come home.

For Airlines this will be a surprise to see this enacted. However, it is coming. Cash flows are only available for two weeks. Additionally, If it is longer than two weeks…

U.S. Congress will need to bail out the industry.

For airlines overseas at the end of this ordeal, the landscape would be different than when we started. Flybe has gone under, SAS in Scandinavia is on life support, Alitalia is about to return to Italian Government hands.

I wouldn’t be surprised that there would be forced consolidation or bankruptcies (administration). Finally, I expect the different governments around the world to incentivize their economies and their industries to get back in the game.

That includes aviation.

Others would simply let airlines go under because it is simply too much to ask the taxpayer.

What do you think about U.S. domestic airspace closure as a means to control the spread of the coronavirus? You can send your comments here.

Featured Image: Wuhan Airport in China empty of airplanes and people.

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