[OPINION] Come fly with me - but please keep your distance
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced that the whole country will move to Level 3 of lockdown on the 1st of June. This means that airlines may resume operations. Sort of. Whether they will, remains to be seen.
The aviation industry is eagerly awaiting details on just how they are to return to the skies.
But, quite frankly, it might not be worth it.
Aviation requires scale to make business sense. The president indicated that domestic air travel will be for business purposes only. Planes don’t just get pushed out of a hangar and take off; airlines need time and resources to prepare compliance with existing mechanical and legal measures. Any additional requirements will only add to those costs.
Social distancing on board is also not a foolproof way to keep passengers and crew safe. Even when blocking out the dreaded middle aisle. Winning back the confidence of all those sharing the space should be priority number one.
When it comes to making money, those margins really are razor-thin. Even at the best of times: The global average net profit per passenger was just $5.70 in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
South Africa’s own Airlines Association of Southern Africa expects domestic travel to only rebound to 60% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year. Even this seems optimistic. And it might not be enough to make the books balance. Certainly not an aviation industry that looks like the one we know. Or knew, since by now we can agree that life won’t soon return to what might have been considered ‘normal’.
Do we wait for the economy to restart and hope flying follows suit? Or, do we support an ailing industry with the belief that it is the egg to the economic chicken?
Please keep your seatbelts fastened, and familiarise yourself with your nearest emergency exit. It’s going to be bumpy for quite some time.
Stephan Lombard produces Breakfast with Refilwe on CapeTalk. He formerly worked in aviation.
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