Help all SA airlines or put economic recovery at risk, industry body warns

(iStock)
(iStock)

African governments could be shooting themselves in the foot in terms of economic recovery if airlines are not given adequate financial support, the International Air Transport Association has warned.

IATA – the trade association for the world's airlines – is urging the SA government, as well as other African countries, to urgently consider ways in which they can help the continent's airline industries to survive coronavirus lockdowns and flight bans.

During an online media roundtable on Thursday, Muhammad al Bakri, IATA's regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, said that both state-owned and private domestic airlines were in urgent need of help.

This was essential to aid economic recovery overall, he argued.

"What is very important is that the sector as a whole is helped. No government will be able to recover their economy without aviation. We don't want the aviation industry, when it starts again, to be hammered with so many charges," he said.

In general, he said, aviation-specific lockdown relief measures in Africa have not been as strong as in other regions, leaving airlines more financially vulnerable.

"We urge the SA government, like we urge other governments, to step forward to provide cash injections, flexibility in airline taxes, the waiving of charges and fees, and offering guarantees to help airlines through this so they can be ready to operate when the government decides to open its borders."

By providing financial relief measures, governments will ensure that airlines are there to support economic recovery once the pandemic is brought under control, he argued.

"What is worrisome for us is that we have not really seen aid for aviation in Africa, despite governments having announced huge coronavirus assistance programmes. We are reaching out to governments in this regard," he said.  

At the end of May, African flight departures were down 94% and airlines on the continent are continuing to battle for survival.

Iata estimates that airlines in Africa have likely already lost in total about $6 billion (about R106 billion) due to the pandemic and related flight bans, placing about 3.1 million jobs in the aviation and related industries are at risk on the continent.

The loss in GDP supported by aviation on the continent is estimated at $28 billion (about R493 billion).

No silver bullet

Because there is no "silver bullet" solution for getting the airline industry going again, IATA recommends a temporary multi-layered approach during the re-start for the health and safety of passengers and crew and to ensure that air travel is not a vector for Covid-19 transmission.

IATA foresees making significant changes across the air travel experience: pre-flight, at the departure airport, onboard, and post-flight. This will require governments to assume broad new responsibilities in terms of assessing and identifying traveller health risks.

"The aviation industry has never come to a complete stop, so we don't have a frame of reference of how to restart such a huge stoppage all over the world. So, governments have to assume some of the responsibilities for health and security in the industry too," said Al Bakri.

"We will work with governments for a restart of aviation in Africa. Our expectation is that, hopefully, once a general plan is presented and digested, it will be included and adapted by all stakeholders so that it will be possible to open borders in Africa."

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