South Africa needs to start planning now for the safe restart of aviation – IATA


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged South Africa to start planning for the safe resumption of international air travel to help repair its decimated business and leisure tourism industry.

Addressing South Africa’s National Aviation Conference, IATA’s Southern and East African Head, Alexandru Stancu, reiterated the industry’s call on the government to replace quarantine with testing and for the country’s authorities to work with industry to prepare for the safe restart of airline operations.

“Careful planning along with other promotional travel incentives, will go a long way towards rebuilding the air travel and tourism industry,” said Stancu.

IATA currently foresees demand for long-haul air travel to and from South Africa returning to 2019 levels by 2024, although travel restrictions, weaker business travel, perceived health risks and the slow pace of vaccinations pose significant risks to the country’s travel and tourism industry’s restart.

“Waiting for vaccines is not an option. Restrictions should be relaxed once vulnerable groups, including aviation workers, have been vaccinated. Air travel is safe when the highly effective standardised global biosecurity measures, defined by the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation – with South Africa’s input – are applied together with rapid testing. These reduce the risk of importing infections to exceptionally low levels and as a result, make international air travel safer than many other activities that have been allowed to restart and it should not be subject to measures that are more restrictive than those applied to domestic flights”, he added.

In addition, South Africa’s adoption of a standardised global approach to securely processing, sharing and recognising health credentials is also crucial for instilling the certainty and confidence that is required for people to travel again and for economies to recover. IATA’s Travel Pass, which is being trialled in over 20 countries, including Rwanda and Ethiopia, is a digital smartphone app that integrates with COVID test and vaccine centres, airlines and border control and that provides users with:

· a continually updated registry of health requirements

· a register of testing and vaccination centres

· the ability to securely receive test results and vaccination certificates from laboratories and vaccine centres

· a contactless “digital passport” so they can verify that their tests/vaccines meet the regulations of their destinations and that they are able to share test and vaccine certifications with health and immigration authorities to facilitate travel.

IATA reported that South Africa experienced a 73% drop in passenger demand in 2020 compared with 2019 levels. A 33% average annual growth rate is expected over the 2020 – 2025 period, with total traffic returning to 2019 levels during 2024. Domestic travel  is expected to reach 2019 levels by 2022. Regional/medium-haul travel is expected to reach 2019 levels in 2023 and long haul travel is expected to recover by 2024 in South Africa – due to remaining travel restrictions, weaker business travel and health risks.

Across Africa in 2020 IATA saw a 69% drop in passenger demand compared to 66% globally. Passenger demand is back to 1998 levels. Africa last year recorded a 61% drop in capacity compared to 57% globally.

Air cargo was a bright spot for African carriers, and cargo volumes increased by 1% in Africa last year – this translates into high cargo revenues, which provided needed support to airlines. However, this was not enough to offset the losses from the passenger side of the business and African airlines lost $2 billion.

Airlines in Africa lost $49.63 for every passenger they flew in 2020 compared to a loss globally of $66.04. Connectivity fell by 90% at the low point of the crisis. Before the crisis there were 970 unique international routes at the low point of the crisis there was 100. And the density of those connections has become much thinner.

IATA said that job losses could grow to 4.5 million in Africa in aviation and related industries and GDP could fall by up to $37 billion supported by aviation in the region.