The Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) has welcomed the re-authorisation, on a limited basis, of domestic commercial flying in South Africa. This was the consequence of the government’s decision to ease the national lockdown restrictions (intended to counter the Covid-19 pandemic) from Level 4 to Level 3 at the start of this month.
Under Level 3 regulations, local airlines can resume services to and from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Regarding Johannesburg, both OR Tambo International and Lanseria International airports are permitted to operate. However, all five airports must have strict health and biosecurity measures in place, as must the airlines.
“It is crucial that the new systems are given appropriate capacity by Port Health so they can be stress-tested as quickly and rigorously as possible,” emphasised AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal. “Only then will the reconnection of other inland and coastal cities be phased in. The sooner this occurs, the better, as survival of airlines and their ability to support the repair of the local and national economies are entirely dependent on this.”
Each local airline seeking to restart operations now must submit to the relevant authorities their health and safety protocols and procedures to guard against the spread of Covid-19, as well as their flight schedules and their requests for takeoff and landing slots at the airports. The relevant authorities who must grant the necessary approvals are the Airports Company South Africa, the Air Traffic Navigation Services, and the South African Civil Aviation Authority.
Because of all these measures that have to be complied with, there would be a delay in the actual resumption of flights. Travellers should check with their airlines regarding the status of their tickets and the details of flight schedules.
“The startup phase will be difficult for all carriers as it involves significant financial outlays before any revenues have been generated,” he highlighted. “Most carriers worldwide, including South Africa, only had about two months of cash reserves in late March 2020, when the travel restrictions were imposed, bringing the industry to a sudden halt.”
Consequently, AASA called on the government to provide direct financial aid to the country’s airlines and associated service providers, regardless of their ownership, because they were all essential to the revival of the economy. The government could provide loans, loan guarantees, wage subsidies, cash injections as well as waive or defer taxes, statutory charges and user fees for airports and services such as air navigation and weather forecasting. “Without an efficient air transport system, South Africa’s economic recovery will be prolonged and painful,” he stressed.