SA aviation feeling impact of renewed restrictions as passenger traffic slows
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SOUTH Africa’s aviation industry has started feeling the harsh impact of renewed and stricter lockdown restrictions as passenger traffic dwindled at Africa’s busiest airport, OR Tambo International.
Comair on Friday temporarily suspended all its scheduled flights for three weeks from today until July 30, just seven months after taking to the skies again following an eight-month hiatus last year.
This suspension of flights follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a move to an adjusted level 4 lockdown for 14 days due to the rapidly rising Covid-19 infections.
The newly imposed travel restrictions due to the third wave of infections prohibit all non-essential travel to and from Gauteng, the hot spot of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The June 27 announcement also adjusted curfew hours, reducing them between 9pm to 4am.
The government warned on Friday that though Gauteng remained most affected by the pandemic, many provinces were almost at red alert as infections continued to surge.
Comair, which owns low-cost carrier kulula.com and operates British Airways in South Africa, says it would recommence services subject to regulations being eased and Covid-19 infection rates, particularly in Gauteng, being contained.
Comair chief executive Glenn Orsmond apologised to customers affected by the suspension.
“This was a difficult decision, but we believe under the circumstances it was the right course of action for our loyal customers and employees,” Orsmond said.
In May last year, Comair entered into voluntary business rescue proceedings after declining passenger traffic as a result of a hard lockdown at the height of the first wave of Covid-19.
The rescue process saw the airline’s workforce reduced from about 2 200 employees to 1 800 employees.
Comair business rescue practitioner Richard Ferguson described the temporary suspension as a responsible decision in light of very little business and leisure travel elsewhere in the country, and no connecting traffic from international carriers.
Independent aviation economist Joachim Vermooten said the restrictions were “horrific for the bottom line” of airlines, and also had mediumto long-term effects for the whole industry.
Vermooten said the biggest problem was that aviation was dependent on vaccination of all ages, not just specific ages as South Africa’s vaccine roll-out programme is designed.
“We need vaccinations very, very quickly. The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has demonstrated that South Africa is now the most isolated in world air travel,” he said.
Meanwhile, low-cost carrier FlySafair said it would continue operating flights during the current adjusted alert level 4 restrictions, within the limits of the current curfew.
The airline said it has had to make some adjustments to its schedule to meet new curfew limitations and a lower demand environment, but remained committed to continue operations.
Domestic and regional airline Airlink also said it would continue to provide its regular scheduled service to support business, trade, tourism and keep economies functioning.
Airlink chief executive Rodger Foster said they fully supported the government’s effort to flatten the infection curve, but they had demonstrated that their flights were safe.
“It is crucial that we continue to provide convenient and efficient air connectivity,” Foster said.