The International Air Transport Association (Iata), the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) and the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa) have jointly appealed to the South African government to provide direct financial relief to the country’s airline sector. This was to help counter the severe effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent national lockdown and commercial air passenger travel ban.
Iata has estimated that South African airline revenues this year would plummet 56% in comparison to last year. In monetary terms, this would be a fall of $3-billion, or some R55-billion. This would endanger 252 100 South African jobs, as well as cost the country $5.1-billion (about R93-billion) in gross domestic product, provided by the aviation and aviation-dependent tourism sectors.
Some support has already been provided, the three bodies pointed out in their appeal. South African authorities had temporarily suspended airport landing and take-off slot rules and had lengthened the validity of aviation personnel licences. The aviation industry had welcomed these moves.
But more was needed. The three associations called for government financial support to keep the country’s airlines alive and fit and able of carrying out their essential functions of being primary enablers for the economy and for job creation. They also called on the government to make certain that all tourism sector businesses were considered when giving financial aid to the country’s small, medium-sized and microenterprises, because these companies created hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“Aviation is vital for connecting markets and moving people and goods between them,” stressed Iata regional VP: Africa and Middle East Muhammad Albakri. “It is not an indulgence of the rich, but an enabler of economic wealth for everyone. Without a viable air transport sector, recovery will be drawn out and painful. South Africa’s economy had already slowed before the crisis, with unemployment at record levels. Fully supporting aviation now is critical if the economy is to expand at a pace that will make a positive difference to its citizens’ lives.”
The organisations noted that the government had three major means to provide direct relief to the country’s aviation sector. They were to supply direct financial support to both airlines and air freight operators; to provide financial relief regarding airport and air traffic control charges and taxes; and to reduce, waive, or defer user-fees and statutory taxes on passenger tickets and flights.
“During these extraordinary times, as the South African government announces the relaxation of lockdown from Level 4 to Level 3, it is important to ensure that aviation is well positioned to be able to provide air services to support business and the travelling public as the economy continues to open up,” affirmed AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal. “The concessions and support requested become even more critical at the time of the re-start of aviation when there will be pressure on depleted cash reserves to fund operations.”
“It is essential that urgent action is taken now to support airlines and the industry as a whole in these difficult times,” highlighted Barsa CEO Zuks Ramasia. “We all need to work together to minimise the impact by creating a platform for recovery from the unprecedented damage being inflicted on international air carriers, including South African airlines. Acting too slowly would result in the post-pandemic recovery being seriously impeded by the reduced availability of air transport for both passengers and cargo.”