The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government and Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone (SEZ) management are both confident that the suspension of direct flights between Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and London by British Airways will prove to be only a short-term measure, until the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control. The UK airline announced the suspension of this service a few days before Christmas.
“[W]e understand the reasoning behind British Airways’ decision,” stated Dube TradePort SEZ and Durban Direct Co-Chair Hamish Erskine. “The impact of Covid-19 and subsequent travel restrictions globally have resulted in low anticipated demand. It is therefore not unreasonable that an airline like British Airways reduces the routes in its network.”
“Our social and economic links to the UK are enduring,” highlighted KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Ravi Pillay. “This will translate itself into continued demand for flights between Durban and London for tourism, trade and visits to friends and family.”
“[W]e are confident in the resilience of the KwaZulu-Natal markets and their ability to sustain direct air services between Durban and London,” affirmed Erskine. “Pre-Covid-19, British Airways experienced very strong load factors which were a testament to the demand of the route, supported by cargo volumes that were almost at capacity.”
The decision by British Airways had not cut air links between KwaZulu-Natal and Durban, on the one hand, and London on the other. Indirect links (Durban-Dubai-London and Durban-Qatar-London) were being maintained by Emirates and Qatar Airways respectively. Nor was British Airways the only airline to suspend operations to Durban. Turkish Airlines had suspended its flights not only to Durban but also to Johannesburg and Cape Town, for the December/January period.
“At the moment we [still] have two strong hub carriers in the form of Qatar Airways and Emirates, servicing Durban – collectively connecting KwaZulu-Natal to over 250 destinations around the world right now,” pointed out Erskine. “That gives us a reasonably good base on which to drive business and leisure travel as well as cargo growth.”