Covid-19 forces SAA to ground all overseas flights; CT-JHB now only operating flight

By Antony Sguazzin

(Bloomberg) – South African Airways, the cash-strapped national airline, suspended all flights outside its home country until the end of May after a government travel ban aimed at stopping the transmission of the coronavirus.

Routes to New York, London and other global cities were scrapped on Friday after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared some of the destinations high risk. The state-owned carrier initially said it would continue to operate regional and domestic routes, yet hours later opted to abandon African destinations including Lagos in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana and the Zimbabwe capital of Harare.

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After the decision to stop flying outside Africa, “there was an immediate drastic reduction of demand” for connecting flights around the continent, SAA said. “This resulted in operation of regional flights not being commercially viable.”

SAA’s route between Johannesburg and Cape Town is now its only operating flight.

SAA joins carriers around the world in grounding planes due to the slump in demand for air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread rapidly and killed more than 10,000 people globally. South African cases have passed 200 since travellers from virus hotspots such as Italy and France started to test positive earlier this month.

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The groundings come at a time when SAA is already in a local form of bankruptcy protection and administrators had started cutting routes before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic. The business-rescue experts on Friday requested an extension until May 29 to finalise a recovery plan.

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