Wesgro chief executive Tim Harris said they are working on ensuring that Cape Town does not lose out on hard earned internal routes as airlines continue to cancel operations to South Africa due to Covid-19.
Wesgro chief executive Tim Harris said they are working on ensuring that Cape Town does not lose out on hard earned internal routes as airlines continue to cancel operations to South Africa due to Covid-19.

International flight frequency cut in half as demand slumps and travel restrictions wreak havoc

By Tshego Lepule Time of article published Jan 24, 2021

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Only nine out of the usual 24 regional and international flights are operating in and out of Cape Town International Airport due to a slump in demand and new coronavirus-related travel bans.

Renewed travel restrictions by countries around the world for travellers coming from South Africa has put a fresh damper on the hope of a recovery for the tourism and aviation industries.

The unreliability of international flights and reduced demand has seen a slew of airlines either cancel routes or reduce the number of flights per week.

Cape Town International Airport spokesperson Deidre Davids said: “There are nearly 120 arriving and departing flights on a given day. This has slowly but steadily increased over time since we first started operating under level three.”

Currently only 15 airlines are operating out of Cape Town of which, three are international flights, six regional and another six local flights servicing domestic routes.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest drop is in the 16 international carriers which are now down to Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways.

* Lufthansa as of Monday will continue with a flight to Frankfurt in Germany three times a day while a Munich stop has been cancelled.

* This week KLM announced fresh travel bans from South Africa which came into effect yesterday after the last flight from the country left Cape Town for Amsterdam.

* Emirates, which is another busy year-round route to Dubai, is expected to return to service this Thursday after halting operations two weeks ago.

* British Airways is only expected to resume operations in March after the Cape Town to Heathrow route suspension was extended.

“Since the opening of international travel in October we saw a steady recovery in passengers with load factors (occupancy of the aircraft) of over 50% and international passenger numbers reaching 20% of pre-Covid levels in December,” said Wesgro chief executive Tim Harris.

Cape Town International Airport has had many routes cancelled recently due to travel bans by other countries. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

“Unfortunately, the new restrictions enforced by governments across the world led to this trend reversing in the first half of January. Airlines are struggling to keep consistent schedules due to ever-changing travel restrictions and we are seeing this play out for us as well, with airlines temporarily suspending flights into Cape Town.”

Wesgro’s Cape Air Access project which boasts having launched 13 new routes to the Western Cape as well as facilitating 19 route expansions has steadily been increasing the number of non-stop routes to Europe and the US over the last few years, having secured the Delta and United Airlines routes in 2019.

The return of Virgin Atlantic for the summer seasonal route last year from Heathrow to Cape Town was also hailed as a win for the province. However, this seasonal schedule was only operational for no more than three days last month before fresh restrictions from the UK halted operations.

Harris said the Cape Town Air Access (CTAA) project is now focused on returning full connectivity to route networks.

“Airlines recognise the value of keeping Cape Town in the roster and this has led to interest from new carriers even during this turbulent times. We are, therefore, working to ensure that the return of the bulk of pre-Covid routes are secured for the 2021/22 summer peak season,” he said.

“A reduction in frequency is still preferred to a cancellation of service and, therefore, connectivity and diversity of destination options remain key in marketing the Cape. The focus of the CTAA team is, therefore, to ensure connectivity over the short and medium term (especially during the approaching winter months) with the longer term focus being on bringing back capacity in the market for the summer season.

“As of 19 January we only have half of our previous network operating into Cape Town. We’re continually engaging with them, and the non-operating carriers, to guarantee Cape Town remains a top priority.”

Harris said while they have not ascertained the economic impact of a loss in capacity, their calculations show that every 100 passengers coming into the province contributes R1 380 000 in tourism spend while also supporting one local job.

Weekend Argus

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