Level 3 lockdown: Airports and airlines gear up for opening, but not many travellers expected

(Facebook, FlySafair)
(Facebook, FlySafair)
  • FlySafair is excited to get its planes off the ground.
  • Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says there will still be some restrictions on flights.
  • Airports Company South Africa has readied airports to receive staff and travellers.

Airlines and airports are readying for the lifting of some travel restrictions under Level 3 of the lockdown - but, according to FlySafair, not many travellers are expected at airports.

Executive manager and chief marketing officer at FlySafair, Kirby Gordon, told News24 the airline was excited to get its aircraft off the ground again, but was not expecting planes to be full.

While the airline can accommodate about 25 000 passengers a week, it is not expecting to hit these numbers.

"Unfortunately, we anticipate that demand will be quite light due to the restrictions currently in place, and the need to rebuild customer confidence," he said.

"We have about 20% of our usual schedule loaded, which means that we would be able to accommodate about 25 000 passengers a week, but we don't expect to see nearly that many."

The airline will only operate domestically and will open operations on 15 June.

Precautions are being taken, Gordon added.

"There are […] a number of health and safety measures being put in place to ensure that flying is safe, so the airport is likely to be a very busy place, even though there are not many people."

As for ticket prices, Gordon said there was a market over-supply, with aircraft parked in the aprons for some time, which he said "should be great for consumers in terms of pricing".

Airlines, as well as the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), have followed the health and safety precautions of the new regulations.

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Previously, the government announced the easing of travel restrictions under Level 3, which Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said would operate under "strict conditions".

For air travel, this means essential domestic travel for business purposes is allowed, but will be limited, with restrictions on the number of flights per day, and authorisation based on the reasons for travel, Mbalula said. 

He explained the phasing in of air travel during an address to the media on Wednesday, following an inspection of OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

"We wish to emphasise once more that you do not travel for friendly business – if there is anything like that – you travel for strict business." 

Mbalula added that the resumption of domestic flights would be rolled out in three phases, which was "not set in stone" and would be based on the readiness of airports. 

Under phase one, movement of commercial aircraft will be allowed at OR Tambo International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, King Shaka International Airport and Lanseria International Airport, Mbalula said. 

The second phase would include Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, Polokwane International Airport and Bram Fischer Airport in Bloemfontein.

Phase three would include airports in Kimberley, Upington, East London, Mthatha and Port Elizabeth, he said.

Mbalula added that "flights will only be allowed to depart and land at selected airports in a phased manner".

Temperature screenings would be conducted at the terminals before passengers could enter and they would not be allowed in if they were not wearing a mask, he said.

Airport staff, as well as the aircraft, would also be equipped with health and safety measures, he added.

As the government prepares to gradually reopen the economy following the hard lockdown, Mbalula said he was confident that the resumption of air travel would play a key role in this. 

Spokesperson for ACSA, Gopolang Peme, explained that airports had been deep cleaned and santised, with people kept out during the hard lockdown.

Only limited areas had been used for repatriation flights and were cleaned and santisied after each departure.

"During the period of travel restrictions, we began developing plans and protocols with Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association.

"The measures you have seen today are therefore aligned to the standards recently set out by international aviation organisations," Peme said.

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Procedures had been introduced for each phase of travel – from arrival at the airport to leaving the plane.

These include limiting access points, implementing social distancing, compulsory mask wearing, screenings, checking permissions to travel and organised boarding.

"Our airport managements and staff have worked long and hard over the past several days to ensure that we give effect to the regulations across all of the points of engagement with passengers," Peme said.

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