Windhoek – Airlines in Southern Africa have seen revenue plunging 60 percent and passenger statistics tumbling 58 percent in the four since most countries in the region went into lockdown as a new coronavirus control measure.
According to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), the picture is gloomy for the global aviation industry, with millions of jobs on the line and billions in earnings wiped away.
For a sector that even in the best of times has struggled to break even, prospects are particularly grim for African aviation which has for long braved high taxes and landing fees, costly imported fuel, and limited intra-continental business.
According to IATA, it is not only Southern African aviation that has been pummelled. Airlines in East Africa have lost 56 percent of flight revenue and 53 percent of passengers. In West Africa the losses have been quantified as 63 percent in revenue and 58 percent in passengers; while the sector in North Africa has lost 58 percent of revenue and 56 percent of passengers.
IATA vice-president (Africa and the Middle East) Muhamad Albakri recently told CNBC Africa that: “We don’t expect most Airlines in Africa to survive such kind of loses as we are experiencing.
“… The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating all cover the world but particularly for the African continent where the demand for passengers has fallen by an average of 58 percent in 2020 compared to the same period last year.
“Airlines (will) post a US$2 billion loss because of a drastic decrease in passenger numbers and an additional US$6 billion from passenger revenue; that is something that has never been seen before.”
Prior to COVID-19, says IATA, African aviation was already operating at a loss with governments forking out big subsidies to keep national flag-carriers airborne.
Last week, Namibia’s government said it would pump more than US$400 million into the state-owned Air Namibia, coupled with a rigorous restructuring exercise.
Namibia’s Minister of Public Enterprises, Leon Jooste, told The Southern Times that: “The issue of Air Namibia is under the auspices of the Cabinet Committee on Treasury and we are currently in the process of consulting various stakeholders.”
Elsewhere, Kenyan Airways is reportedly in the process of laying off employees. The airline, which – along with South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines – is a major carrier in Africa, has resumed some domestic flights and repatriations of people stranded by COVID-19.
South African Airways recently sought a bailout of more than US$70 million to sustain operations.
Air Zimbabwe, which was operating two long-haul craft before the pandemic, is in financial turbulence and a protracted effort to restructure it is yet to bear fruit.