National carrier South African Airways is scaling down its capacity, as coronavirus wreaks havoc on the global transport industry.
The airline is cancelling 162 flights between 17 March and 31 March 2020. Of these 38 are international and 124 are regional, it said. This comes hours after government revealed that 116 people have tested positive to coronavirus in South Africa so far.
The airline, which is already in business rescue, said it had scaled down capacity in response to the low demand for air travel. SAA is under a form of bankruptcy protection and battling for its survival.
SAA said in a statement, "In the light of the substantial fall in demand for air travel, SAA has reviewed its flight schedule and has decided to operate flights only under circumstances where its load factors and other business considerations weigh in favour of scheduling flights. However, certain flights that have been negatively impacted more than others, are consequently cancelled."
“Notwithstanding the decline in demand, SAA continues to aggressively review its schedule to match capacity with demand to the extent possible. Where feasible, we will consider options that include cancelling and merging flights,” SAA Chief Commercial Officer, Philip Saunders said.
“The effects of the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) have led to travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of aircraft, releasing employees and cancelling flights for many airlines. SAA is not immune to these realities,” it said.
The airline said it would continue to provide a service on the domestic, regional and international networks for those passengers whose travel is essential and cannot be avoided.
It will further continue to operate to and from destinations unaffected by travel restrictions aimed at combatting the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our priority is to assist those travellers wishing to repatriate to their home countries to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. Naturally, this includes South African citizens abroad wishing to return home,” Saunders said.
Subject to the conditions set out in the travel ban announced by government in South Africa, SAA will also facilitate the transfer of qualifying passengers to or from the destinations it flies to, which have been classified as high-risk areas.
On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and announced sweeping measures that include travel bans to high-risk countries. The ban kicks in on Wednesday.
Earlier today, SA Express said it will suspend its operations from Wednesday, March 18, it revealed in a press statement.
The airline stated: “In light of adverse recent developments including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, SA Express announces that it will suspend operations from 18 March 2020 until further notice.”