Despite the lifting of restrictions on leisure air travel under alert level 2, the financially-bleeding South African airline industry – expected to take up to three years to recover from months of lockdown and a closed economy – would lose 50% in passenger flight capacity, Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) group executive for corporate affairs Refentse Shinners, has warned.
While Shinners could not say which airlines were currently operating and at what capacity, spokesperson for the embattled SA Airways, Tlali Tlali, confirmed that all national carrier flights have for the past four months grounded to a halt, with the picture being unchanged by the dawn of level 2.
Said Tlali: “Even under level 2, we are currently not flying at all. All segments: domestic, Africa, intercontinental, are not at all in operation.
“We are still focusing on the implementation of the business rescue.
“Once we have dealt with outstanding parts of the business rescue plan, that will provide a foundation for us to resume our operations.
“The business rescue plan has an impact on our operations in that it involves certain decisions, impacting on employees.”
The Citizen could confirm that low-cost airlines Mango and FlySafair were among a few carriers currently operating domestic flights.
In a wide-ranging interview on the airline industry’s state of readiness under level 2, Shinners cautioned: “We do not expect the same level of passenger air traffic, seen prior to full lockdown, but 50% in passenger flight capacity.
“The industry and its clients are taking a battering from Covid-19 and it can take up to three years to get to the levels seen in September 2019.
“However, we are encouraging people to use air travel as a preferred mode of transport, because we deem it to be the safest.”
So hard has been the impact of the lockdown on the airline industry that Shinners painted a picture of a business in trouble.
She explained: “During levels 5 and 4, there was very limited travel allowed. We spent that time preparing our operations for a time when flying would reopen.
“At that time, we did not know when that would be.
“At level 3 we were ready and cleaned our terminal buildings, putting in new operating procedures with regards to Covid-19.
“While we had limited domestic travel under level 3, we were able to put our systems to test.”
On health and safety, Shinners assured flight passengers of “the best care”.
She said: “From a health perspective, we are applying social distancing at all the airports.
“We have put in place physical distancing markers across the passenger journey and sanitisers throughout the terminal building.
“I do not think there is a building in this country which has as many sanitisers as we have.
“We encourage passengers to prepare for their journeys at home, online as much as possible, online booking and self-checking, so that there is minimal interaction.
“We have also put measures at checking counters to minimise human contact. The passengers have to put baggage tags themselves to minimise contact. You have to scan the boarding pass yourself.”
According to the International Air Transport Association July study:
- Worldwide flights were 50% lower on the week of July19 compared to the second week.
- The lowest point reached at end April; flights were reduced by 80%.
- Africa flights were 77% lower in July compared to January.
- The lowest point reached was in mid-April when flights reduced by 96%.
- In Europe flights were 47% lower in late July compared to early January.
- Latin American flights were 77% lower in late July compared to early January.
- North American flights were 42% lower in late July compared to early January.
- Middle East flights were 70% lower in late July compared early January.