South African Airways has been getting requests from other airlines to take on more passengers on flights to South Africa, as airlines around the world ground their planes amid the coronavirus outbreak, said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Gordhan was speaking at a briefing on Tuesday evening, along with Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and other officials, ahead of the international travel ban to be implemented from today.
On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of national disaster, and instituted a travel ban from and to high risk countries such as the UK, Germany, the US and China, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 domestically. So far, the number of infections is at 116, News24 reported. Apart from the travel ban, government has also closed 35 land ports and two seaports in order to limit the movement of people. The movement of cargo is not affected.
Gordhan said that at this point, airlines across the world are making decisions every few hours on what to do to remain sustainable amid the coronavirus outbreak. He said many airlines had grounded as much as 50% of their aircraft and some are considering increasing it to 70%. As a result, SAA, which is in business rescue, has been getting requests to take on passengers from these other airlines.
"SAA has been getting requests in the last few days to consider taking on passengers who are flying directly to SA," Gordhan said.
On Tuesday night, state-owned SA Express announced that it would suspend its operations immediately, due in part to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Customers are to be accomodated on Mango, SAA and Airlink
The minister added that many airlines are reviewing their routes, including SAA which has routes to Frankfurt, Munich, New York, London, Washington Perth and Sao Paulo.
"What we need to emphasise is airlines throughout world are in huge financial difficulties," Gordhan said. European airlines need between €50 billion and €70 billion to survive and in the US airlines need about $15 trillion to survive, Gordhan said.
Some experts even predict that the airline industry in its current form will not exist beyond May this year.
Commenting on the repatriation processes, Gordhan said there are many South Africans across the world who want to come home, and similarly there are citizens from other countries who are in SA and want to go back to their respective countries. Even though the travel ban is effective from Wednesday, the repatriation process may continue into the next week.
Meanwhile, SAA and its subsidiary Mango as well as Comair airlines British Airways and kulula.com have waived fees for flight changes amid the outbreak, Business Insider reported. Kulula.com has also allowed clients to claim full refund.