A human bird flu pandemic could ground up to 70 percent of aircraft, Virgin Group boss Richard Branson said on Thursday.
"You're just going to have to be strong enough to keep your head down for a year," the entrepreneur behind Virgin Atlantic Airways and other carriers told business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
"If it happens, an airline is going to have 50 percent of its planes grounded, maybe more — 60, 70 percent," he said.
The only positive would be a fall in fuel costs: "It will certainly bring down oil prices with a thump."
Air travel is expected to be in the frontline should the H5N1 strain of bird flu become easily transmitted between people.
Air travel was crucial in spreading the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, virus around Asia and to Canada in 2003.
"Statistically, there is about a 6 percent chance that in any one year of the next 10 years this becomes a person-to-person problem, and we just have to hope it is not this year," Branson said.
Virgin has purchased enough doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu for all airline employees at the group in an attempt to protect them in the event of a pandemic.