Photograph — IOL

South African Airways (SSA) has announced plans to resume domestic flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town from mid-June, as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease. SAA also plans to extend cancellations of all regional and intercontinental flights until the end of June.

Due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the national carrier suspended all commercial passenger flights late March, when the government imposed one of the strictest lockdowns as part of initial responses to the spread of the virus.

But in an address to the nation on Sunday, May 24, President Cyril Ramaphosa said domestic air travel for business purposes would be phased in after June 1, as the country moves to level 3 of a five-level alert system.

SAA, which is under a form of bankruptcy protection, has been surviving under a lifeline of government loans which kept the airline flying through the years of mounting debts and no profit.

For over a decade, the second-largest airline in Africa has not recorded any profit or gain in its financial book. In December,  the government signed a five-month business rescue plan for SAA in an attempt to save the airline but efforts have since been frustrated by lack of funding and subsequently the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline has been largely affected by travel restrictions and closed borders in the global aviation industry, in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus across the world.

The government last month said it was unwilling to provide more funding for the airline, as the country grapples with the impact of the virus on its economy, making the closure of the state carrier seemingly inevitable.

Earlier this month, authorities flagged off the recreation of a new national carrier from scratch, following several attempts to save the 86-year old SAA, which has over time faced issues of mismanagement and corruption.

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan believes that the establishment of a new airline, with participation from the public and private sectors, will create an opportunity to compete amongst aviation transporters in the post-COVID-19 world.

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