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Boeing concerned about coronavirus impact on air travel

A Boeing 747-4B5(F), on a charter flight from Wuhan, China, arrives at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on January 28, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Lance King | Getty Images

Boeing raised concerns on Wednesday about the spread of coronavirus, as the rising number of infections prompts airlines to cut back service to China, where most of the cases are concentrated.

More than 6,150 people have been infected by the flu-like virus and more than 130 people in China have died from it, authorities said.

Big companies, from Apple to Ford to Kraft Heinz, have restricted their employees’ China business travel or scaled back operations because of the virus. Airlines have said they have seen a sharp drop in demand to the country as the outbreak grows.

The virus is spreading as the pace of global air traffic growth has begun to moderate.

November traffic growth rose 3.3% from a year earlier, the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, reported earlier this month. “November’s moderate result reflects the continuing influence of slower economic activity, geopolitical tensions and other disruptions, including strikes in Europe,” said the director-general of the trade group,  which represents most of the world’s airlines.

Boeing CFO Greg Smith noted in a call with analysts Wednesday the moderation in air traffic growth and said the “impact of the coronavirus on near-term traffic growth is clearly a watch item this year.”

China has becoming increasingly important to carriers and airplane manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus. The country is expected to replace the U.S. as the largest market for air travel by the middle of this decade, according to IATA.