OR Tambo passes Mbalula’s readiness test, but Acsa sees slow travel demand
DURBAN - The Airports Company SA (Acsa) expects demand for business travel to be slow after three airports opened this week in line with new regulations under lockdown level 3 as Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said he hoped airports could help reignite economic growth.
Mbalula, on a visit to OR Tambo International Airport, said he was confident airports would play a central role in reigniting the economy and reconnecting economic hubs.
His tour of the airport took him through each stage of the passenger’s journey, from arrival, through access control and screening, to check-in, security checkpoints and to the boarding of an aircraft as he tested its state of readiness in anticipation of a gradual increase in air travel for business purposes over the next few weeks.
“Now that we have started with opening up aviation, we must look ahead with determination in order for the transport sector to perform its vital economic role,” he said.
However, Acsa spokesperson Gopolang Peme on Thursday said their airports had been quiet.
The company owns three of the four airports that opened in phase 1 of the domestic air travel permitted to operate under level 3. These airports are OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka International Airport.
“We anticipate that there will be some demand that will grow slowly. This is an entirely new situation, and it is not possible to be more precise about the volumes of passengers anticipated.
"We are, however, able to accommodate all flights that airlines decide to operate,” said Peme.
Peme said they were guided by requirements from airlines for flight slots.
Acsa said that its airports management and staff were working to ensure they adhered to the regulations across all of the points of engagement with passengers.
Airports were deep-cleaned and sanitised and kept clear of people for the duration of the travel restrictions.
Limited areas within terminals were used to facilitate departing repatriation flights that were also cleaned and sanitised after each departure.
Peme said that during the period of travel restrictions they began developing plans and protocols with Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association, which ensured that the measures implemented on June 1 were aligned to the standards recently set out by international aviation organisations.
He said conforming to global standards was essential for airports, particularly when the country eventually reached a point where the government could consider opening up airports for international travel.
An investment analyst at Mergence Investment Managers, Lulama Qongqo, said although there could be sufficient supply of services, she did not believe there would be sufficient demand soon.
“The general sentiment is that businesses have been holding conferences online.
"The question is that will they resume the business travelling or continue with the online conferencing?
"Chances are they are likely to continue with it and travel when there is great need.”
She said the reopening of other sectors might increase traffic, but considering the global aviation industry trends, she did not believe the demand would be enough for aviation companies to operate profitably.
Roelof Botha, a board member of Civil Aviation Association SA and economic adviser to the Optimum Investment Group, said that according to an economic impact analysis of the effects of Covid-19 on civil aviation published by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a dramatic and unprecedented decline in the world’s air passenger traffic was expected this year.
He added that, according to ICAO, the ultimate impacts would depend on a number of key variables, including the duration and magnitude of the Covid-19 outbreak, effectiveness of containment, degree of consumer confidence in air travel and economic conditions in general.