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Game of monopoly? Private airlines denied routes ‘reserved’ for SAA

May 11th 2021 at 06:28

Zanzibar was proving to be an ideal destination for South Africans with a desire to travel beyond the country’s borders during the pandemic since there is no quarantine requirement on arrival and Covid-19 PCR testing (required for re-entry to South Africa) can easily be carried out before departing Zanzibar.

Direct flights between Johannesburg and Zanzibar were being operated by the low-cost carrier Mango Airlines until 25 April.  A subsidiary of South African Airways, Mango is now facing a financial crisis while it waits to receive pre-approved funding which had been allocated to it by the Department of Public Enterprises.

Mango’s Zanzibar ‘monopoly’

As a result of the delay, Mango suspended operations on its popular Zanzibar route where it held a monopoly since South African Airways (SAA) who also had rights to operate scheduled services on the route has been grounded since March last year. The suspension of direct flights to the island means that the destination is no longer an attractive option for the number of South Africans who wish to visit the island.

Travelnews reports that South African tour companies that organise holiday packages to Zanzibar, have been requesting privately owned South African airline companies to start up flights on the now unserved Zanzibar route, since there is demand for flights.

ALSO READ: Could SAA be up and flying again as soon as July?

Airlines eager to fill the gap, but…

Privately-owned local airline Cemair, which has been spreading its wings and picking up additional routes while many routes remained underserved, is keen to operate flights on the Zanzibar route.

Cemair’s CEO Miles van der Molen told Travelnews that his airline is eager but not able to start up flights since all existing permits to operate flights on routes to Tanzania were reserved.   

“We would be very keen to take on this route but the bilateral agreement between South Africa and Tanzania only allows about 28 or 29 weekly flights between the two countries; 26 of these traffic rights are currently held by SAA, SA Express and Mango, none of which is servicing the routes,” Cemair’s Miles van der Molen told Travelnews.

“The rights for the remaining two flights were recently awarded to Airlink, which is operating flights between South Africa and Dar es Salaam. This means that there are currently no available traffic rights for us to apply for.”

ROUTE AUTHORISING COUNCIL NOW DEFUNCT

Newly independently airline Airlink which has been expanding operations and increasing its local schedule since being allowed to resume operations, said there is no possibility of other airlines securing permits to start up direct flights on the Zanzibar route for the foreseeable future due to the Air Services Licencing Council (an entity placed under the Department of Transport) having disbanded in March.    

“Members of the International Air Services Council serve for only three years, and as their tender has ended, there is currently no council in existence to either revoke or award new traffic rights. This means that, regardless of interest in the destination, there is no immediate solution to close the gap created by Mango’s suspension of the route.” Airlink’s Rodger Foster told Travelnews.

“Section 20 and 21 of the Air Services Act of 1993 outlines that the International Air Services Council has the right to revoke unused traffic rights. The council should do this automatically but the Act also makes provisions for queries or complaints to be raised to the council relating to dormant traffic rights.

“In this instance, the International Air Services Council must launch an investigation about why the rights are dormant and respond publicly on its assessment, revoking unused rights in order to allow other carriers to apply for them.”

ROUTES ‘RESERVED’ FOR STATE-OWNED CARRIERS

Cemair’s CEO believes that the Air Services Licencing Council, tasked with the approval of flight route applications and the granting of permits to airlines, had intentionally held off the processing of new applications by acting in favour of the state-owned carriers.

“Not only did the International Air Services Council disband in March without replacements being appointed but the previous Council left their position with a massive backlog of applications unattended to. We believe that this was due to governmental pressure to prevent injury to SAA and SA Express through the revocation of their traffic rights ahead of their supposed ‘imminent’ restarts,” Van der Molen said.

SOUTH AFRICA INCREASINGLY ISOLATED

Aviation economist Dr Joachim Vermooten told Travelnews that the lack of adjudication of applications for international flight routes received from airlines in South Africa had led to a reduction in air connectivity between South Africa and other countries.

This translates to increasing isolation of the country, despite travel bans and entry restrictions raised against South Africa as a result of COVID-19 restrictions that have been imposed by other countries.

Could SAA be up and flying again as soon as July?

May 10th 2021 at 04:44

After officially exiting its lengthy business rescue process on 30 April, SAA has indicated it aims to resume scheduled flights from the beginning of July.   

According to the document seen by Fin24, the now liquid and solvent national carrier plans to take flight within the next two months. The document indicates that the airline intends to recommence domestic flights on 1 July.

ALSO READ: Business rescue finalised: SAA cleared for take-off

SAA ACCESSING ROUTES

The national carrier’s interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo stated that his team would review the airline’s existing route network and focus on efficiencies within the company when restarting the airline.

“We need to look at routes that are profitable and sustainable and whether we are using the latest aircraft in terms of technology and fuel efficiency,” Kgokolo told the Daily Maverick.

STAGGERED RESTART

Kgokolo stated that the airline would be restarting its route network in stages, beginning with  domestic and regional flight schedules before returning to international routes.

“We will do a staggered restart by first starting with domestic and regional flights,” Kgokolo said.

It seems that SAA has selected destinations where operations are possible and where demand exists. The airline appears to have avoided routes where there is an oversupply of seats by competitors who have already established a presence while SAA was grounded.

SAA: DOMESTIC ROUTE NETWORK

The document seen by Fin24 indicates that SAA intends to start up its domestic flight schedule from the beginning of July this year.

The airline will operate a small internal route network with flights on just three routes from Johannesburg.  South African Airways intends to operate scheduled services between Johannesburg and Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town and Johannesburg and Gqeberha from 1 July.

SAA: REGIONAL ROUTE NETWORK

According to Fin24, the airline will offer flights from its Johannesburg hub to Maputo (Mozambique), Windhoek (Namibia), Harare (Zimbabwe), Lusaka (Zambia), Lilongwe and Blantyre (Malawi), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Accra (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria).

SAA has dropped numerous destinations from its previous route network. Destinations, such as the Victoria Falls, Livingstone and Luanda, have been excluded. Services are being provided by private carriers including Cemair (Luanda), Airlink (Livingstone), Fastjet and British Airways operated by Comair (Victoria Falls).

FLEET CONUNDRUM

The airline no longer has suitable aircraft in its fleet to be able to operate profitable services to several destinations in its proposed domestic and regional route networks.   SAA will need to acquire additional aircraft to operate flights to most of these destinations. 

SAA’s rescue practitioners returned the airline’s leased aircraft to aircraft lessors last year, leaving the carrier with a fleet of nine wide-body aircraft which were deployed primarily on the airline’s intercontinental routes. These aircraft are older Airbus A340 models that few airlines still operate as they are not fuel efficient.

INTERNATIONAL ROUTES 

SAA’s former top international routes included destinations such as London, New York, Frankfurt and Perth. The airline used its wide-body Airbus A340 aircraft amongst others, on these routes.

While several governments have imposed flight and entry bans on South Africa, there would be no point in resuming flights to most of SAA’s international routes in the foreseeable future. Low passenger volumes would simply translate into more financial losses.    

NEED FOR EQUITY PARTNER

Now that the airline’s business rescue process is officially over and since R2.7bn has been prioritised for SAA’s embattled subsidiaries (Mango, Air Chefs and SAA Technical – to avoid the total collapse of these entities), the return of South African Airways to the skies is dependent on the airline acquiring a strategic equity partner who will inject much-needed cash into the airline.

i-Robot at your service: Sandton hotel adds robots to staff component [watch]

May 7th 2021 at 15:07

While several hotels in Sandton have not yet had to implement new ways of operating due to having closed their doors back in March last year, Hotel Sky has adopted a new approach to its operations and is welcoming more guests than many of its competitors thanks to the contactless service provided by its robotic staff members.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic threw most industries into turmoil. The hospitality and  tourism sectors which are high-touch, service-oriented industries have been dealt a blow by a huge drop in demand for their services, as well as being required to adjust the way they do things.

Image: Supplied/ Hotel Sky

HOTEL SKY EMBRACES ROBOTIC TECHNOLOGY

When Hotel Sky opened its doors at the end of 2020, it decided to acquire and deploy three robots to attend to its guests’ needs in an effort to reduce contact between hotel employees and guests.

Hotel Sky delivers contactless services with robots. Image : Lorne Philpot

According to News24, the hotel had intended to deploy robots throughout the hotel prior to the arrival of COVID-19.  However, the onset of the pandemic has sped up the rollout of services that are provided by the hotel’s robots.             

ROBOTS PROVIDE SAFE CONTACTLESS SERVICES

Businesses providing services in the hospitality and tourism sectors are required by law to limit interaction between personnel and staff, in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

INQ reports that Hotel Sky currently has three robots onsite to attend to its guests. The robots perform tasks such as the delivery of room service orders and providing concierge services to guests.  This reduces the need for interaction between humans and therefore complies with national COVID-19 regulations for the hospitality sector.

NEED FOR TWEAKING ROBOTIC DATABASES  

The robotic-supplied services still have a way to go since the robots do not yet have comprehensive databases which enable them to provide answers to all the queries which guests may have.  

A hotel employee explained that the robotic databases are constantly being updated so that the robots are better able to answer the range of questions that guests put to the robots. 

i-Robot at your service: Sandton hotel adds robots to staff component [watch]

A Sandton hotel is using robots for the delivery of specific services it offers its guests, in order to reduce risks of COVID-19 infection.

sky-hotel-robot

Hotel Sky robots contactless service

Hotel Sky delivers contactless services with robots. Image : Lorne Philpot

Confirmed: Australian borders will be closed until 2022

May 7th 2021 at 05:36

Scores of people across the world have been eagerly awaiting the reopening of Australia’s borders so they could again visit visit family, friends or loved whom they have been separated from for well over a year.

Australia’s borders have been closed since March 2020.  The latest news that the country’s border closure will continue into 2022, comes as a blow to travellers who were hoping that they would be able to travel to Australia from October this year.

BORDER OPENING: AUSTRALIA TO EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION

The Telegraph reports that Australia’s Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Australian media that the country would not be reopening its borders to most international visitors until next year at the very earliest, and even then, the country would be very cautious regarding who will be permitted through its borders.

“We won’t be seeing borders being flung open at the start of next year with great ease,” Birmingham was quoted as saying in The Telegraph.

DELAYED VACCINATION DRIVE

The Australian government previously indicated that the country’s borders were set to reopen in October 2021, but delays in Australia’s vaccination programme — compounded by the unknown efficacy of vaccines against the new COVID-19 variants prevalent in several countries — have forced Australia to push back the reopening of its borders.

“Uncertainties exist — not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout, but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of COVID, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness,” Birmingham said.

‘TRAVEL BUBBLES’

When Australia finally does allow foreign visitors to travel to its shores, the country will begin by allowing entry to key states which have had managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their countries.

The Telegraph reports that so-called “travel bubbles” are likely to be implemented between Australia and select Asian nations, such as Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, though there is no confirmed date for the commencement of these arrangements.

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