Seven additional airports to reopen for flights from start of July - Mbalula

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in May 2020.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in May 2020.
Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu
  • Minister of Transport says seven additional airports will be allowed to operate from Wednesday.
  • East London and George airports will remain shut as they are not yet ready to comply with all lockdown guidelines.
  • Recreational air passenger travel remains "strongly discouraged", and international travel is still only permitted for essential services and repatriation.

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula has announced that that seven additional airports be allowed to operate from Wednesday under strict rules to ensure social distancing. 

The 13-week lockdown has hit South Africa's aviation industry hard. South African Airways and Comair are both in business rescue, while SA Express' provisional liquidators have started auctioning more of the airline's assets as they race against time to avoid a final liquidation.

Mbalula said in late May that the largest international airports in the country – OR Tambo International, King Shaka International and Cape Town International Airport and Lanseria – could reopen with strict social distancing rules and lockdown guidelines for limited flights. 

The Minister on Monday announced that from July 1, government would allow:

  • Bram Fischer Airport in Bloemfontein,
  • Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport;
  • Pietermaritzburg Airport
  • Port Elizabeth Airport, 
  • Skukuza Airport,
  • Richards Bay Airport, and
  • Upington Airport in Northern Cape to reopen for passenger flights.

"At level three, which we are currently in, we will gradually reopen aviation. You will remember that we had the golden circle, which is OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka. We will gradually be expanding that," said Mbalula.

East London and George airports would not be included in this phase of relaxation, as they are not yet ready to comply with all lockdown guidelines, said the minister. Other airports will follow once all the mechanisms needed at those airports are in place.

Mbalula told reporters that on June 5, CemAir restarted flights, while Airlink recommenced on June 8 from OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka. Mango, as well as Fly Safair, restarted flights on June 15. 

He said the South African Civil Aviation Authority had received about 117 Standard Operating Procedure submissions - proposals for safe resumption of operation from the industry and approved more than 87.  

Mbalula stressed that while domestic air travel for business purposes and for essential services has been greenlit, recreational air passenger travel was "strongly discouraged". International travel remains restricted.

"All international flights are prohibited, except those authorised by the Minister of Transport working together with DIRCO (Department of International Relations and Cooperation) where it relates to the flights for the repatriation of citizens," he said.

Earlier in June, the Airlines Association of Southern Africa CEO Chris Zweigenthal said as the South African government relaxed lockdown from level 4 to level 3, aviation needed to be positioned to provide services to business and the public.

"The concessions and support requested becomes even more critical at the time of the restart of aviation where there will be pressure on depleted cash reserves to fund operations," said Zweigenthal said earlier this month.

Mbalula reminded the public that passenger air travel was a risk for the spread of Covid-19, despite the  presence of high efficiency particulate air filter systems in aircraft - which clean the air inside of an aircraft during flight - due to the close proximity between passengers. 

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