THE COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of aircraft and the cancellation of flights.     Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)
THE COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of aircraft and the cancellation of flights. Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

SA aviation industry latest casualty of coronavirus

By Siphelele Dludla Time of article published Mar 19, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s aviation industry became the latest casualty of the spreading coronavirus (Covid-19) after domestic airlines suspended their operations and cancelled more than 100 flights yesterday.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of aircraft and the cancellation of flights.

South African Airways (SAA) yesterday scaled down capacity in response to the low demand for air travel due to travel disruptions and restrictions caused by Covid-19.

SAA chief commercial officer Philip Saunders said the airline decided to operate flights only under circumstances where its load factors and other business considerations weighed in favour of scheduling flights.

Saunders said SAA was continuing to provide a service on the domestic, regional and international networks for those passengers whose travel was essential.

“Notwithstanding the decline in demand, SAA continues to aggressively review its schedule to match capacity with demand to the extent possible. Where feasible, we will consider options that include cancelling and merging flights,” Saunders said.

“Our priority is to assist those travellers wishing to repatriate to their home countries to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. Naturally, this includes South African citizens abroad wishing to return home.”

The flight cancellations will be a big blow to SAA’s finances when the airline is fighting for its survival after it was placed in business rescue in December.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday declared a state of national disaster and announced a travel ban on foreign nationals from destinations that have been classified as high-risk areas, including the UK, Germany, the US and China.

The International Air Transportation Authority has estimated the global cost to the aviation sector to be as much as $113billion (R1.87trillion).

SA Express also suspended its operations yesterday until further notice in light of the Covid-19.

The airline, which is also under business rescue, said it would accommodate all its customers on alternative flights while placing non-critical staff on compulsory leave.

“The airline will utilise this period to review its current network and streamline operations for improved efficiency,” it said.

Low-cost domestic carrier FlySafair also announced that it would reduce its flight schedule by between 30 and 40 percent to rationalise costs amid noticeably lower demand.

FlySafair chief marketing officer Kirby Gordon said the reduction in flights would not result in the cancellation of any existing routes, but meant a reduced numbers of flights per route to no less than one flight per day on each route.

“This pandemic is forcing us to make some incredibly tough decisions. We have to balance customer demand with our business continuity, which is a tough line to draw,” Gordon said.

“We’re trying to limit the inconvenience of schedule changes as much as possible by accommodating customers on the nearest available flights.”

Comair, the operator of kulula.com and British Airways, said it was consolidating its flight operations.

Comair said it would not charge a booking fee on changes to flights booked after March 13 for travel before May 17.

BUSINESS REPORT 

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