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By Suren Naidoo

Moneyweb: Deputy Editor & Host of the Property Pod

Mango, FlySafair, Airlink and CemAir to take flight in Level 3

Both Comair and SAA remain grounded.

Businesspeople who are now allowed to undertake essential travel between South Africa’s “golden triangle” hub cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban during alert Level 3 of Covid-19 restrictions have a choice of four commercial airlines (currently) on which to fly.

Mango Airlines confirmed on Thursday that it would resume flights from mid-June, joining the likes of FlySafair, Airlink and CemAir, which have already confirmed plans to operate this month.

Mango CEO Nico Bezuidenhout said that the airline “is getting ready to take the skies once more”, but will remain compliant with government regulations.

“We are pleased to announce that we will resume flying on Monday, June 15, 2020. New bookings are open now for flying from June 15, 2020,” he said.

Mango will be offering 12 flights a day during weekdays – four each between Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport (ORT) and Cape Town; ORT and Durban; and Cape Town and Durban, respectively. Over weekends, it will operate 10 flights altogether between these cities.

FlySafair confirmed to Moneyweb earlier this week that it would recommence flights on June 15. It will operate flights on the “golden triangle” as well as from Johannesburg’s Lanseria International Airport to both Cape Town and Durban.

Airlink is set to commence flights from June 8, however, it will operate the “trunk routes” of Johannesburg to Cape Town and Johannesburg to Durban.

Smaller aviation group CemAir will also be operating these two routes for now. The airline notes on its website that flights will commence as of June 5.

Meanwhile, SAA and Comair – both in the midst of business rescue proceedings – remain grounded.

Comair’s business rescue practitioners (BRPs) this week said the group “is unlikely to start operating again before November this year, notwithstanding the easing of restrictions on air travel”.

They noted that the group, which owns kulula.com and operates British Airways’ domestic flights in the country, would need “a substantial cash injection” in order to resume operations this month.

SAA’s joint BRPs Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana clarified in a statement last week that the airline would not be recommencing flights in June.

“The position around the cessation of flights remains as is until SAA has a better sense of what the level 3 lockdown means in terms of domestic air travel. The airline also needs to consider what the opening of the skies will mean from a commercial and load factor perspective. SAA’s future funding also remains a key variable in all of the above considerations,” they reiterated in a statement.

SAA and Comair’s British Airways domestic service traditionally offers business class seats, the supply of which will be impacted by these airlines currently being grounded.

Mango and FlySafair, which operate much larger commercial aircraft than Airlink and CemAir, are low-cost carriers and do not offer business class. However, with a food and drinks service not allowed on airlines under current Covid-19 restrictions, the value and demand for business class may be questioned.

Besides essential business travel, in terms of the government’s phased reopening of the skies to domestic travel in level 3, people travelling for funerals and other essential service workers will also be allowed to fly. However, all air travellers will be required to have the relevant permits and signed documents indicating the reasons for their travel.

According to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, as part of the first phase of “opening up” aviation for domestic business travel, only ORT and Lanseria International in Johannesburg, as well as Cape Town International and King Shaka International Airport in Durban will be allowed to operate.

Speaking during an inspection of ORT on Wednesday, Mbalula reiterated that only passengers would be allowed inside airport terminal buildings. He said temperature screening would become a norm at terminal building entrances before any passenger was allowed entry. Passengers without face masks would not be given access to terminal buildings.

“All airports will have markings on the floor for social distancing of 1.5 metres. This will be applicable at check-in counters, security checkpoints and airport lounges,” he noted.

“At boarding gates, boarding will be staggered and prioritised in terms of the number of passengers waiting to board. Sectional boarding will be implemented to avoid unnecessary contact inside the aircraft,” he added.

Mbalula said that airlines would be allowed full capacity in terms of passengers, but stringent health and sanitisation measures would be implemented.

The wearing of face masks is compulsory, while catering and magazines will not be allowed in the cabin.

In addition to precautionary temperature screenings at various points at airports, he noted that all commercial aircraft are fitted with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection on passenger airliners.

“These HEPA filters are manufactured to the same standard as those used in hospital operating theatres and industrial clean rooms, with the same efficacy of 99.97% in removing viruses,” he added.

Mbalula said that the last rows on airlines would be reserved for isolation of suspected Covid-19 cases, should they be detected on board.

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