Kulula cancels flights in South Africa
(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • Comair, operator of Kulula and British Airways in South Africa, has extended the suspension of all its flights until 31 August.
  • The airline company's initial suspension was due to be lifted on 30 July.
  • But the two-week extension of Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown regulations has grounded Comair's planes for longer.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Comair, which operates Kulula and British Airways in South Africa, has suspended all its flights until 31 August. The airline company initially hoped to return to the skies at the end of July but, following the extension of Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown restrictions, announced on Tuesday that its grounding will be lengthened by a month.

South Africa's airline industry has been battered by Covid-19 and its associated lockdown restrictions. Passenger volumes between Johannesburg and Cape Town have halved over the past year, with domestic airlines baring the brunt of the continent's R140 billion loss.

For Comair, an already unstable financial footing has been further eroded by the pandemic. The airline company entered business rescue in May 2020, shortly after the pandemic reached South Africa's shores, after recording a R564 million half-year loss. As part of the business rescue plan, Comair delisted from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in April after seeing a strong pickup in passenger volumes in March.

But the arrival of the third wave of Covid-19 infections in June brought about another round of tighter lockdown restrictions. At the end of June, just as Comair was making good on its recovery plans, Adjusted Alert Level 4 restrictions were imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

These regulations were especially strict on Gauteng, which at the time accounted for more than 60% of the country's active caseload, prohibiting leisure travel in and out of the province.

Domestic airlines rushed to amend their cancellations policies and adjust flight schedules to cater to passengers travelling from or to Gauteng.

South Africa's newest airline, LIFT, grounded all its flights until 1 August. Comair followed suit, announcing that all Kulula and British Airways flights would be suspended until 30 July.

On Sunday, it was announced that the Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown restrictions would be extended until 25 July. Less than 48-hours after the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Comair confirmed that its flights would remain grounded until 31 August.

"This decision was not made lightly, as it has a significant impact on both our customers and our employees," Comair CEO, Glenn Orsmond, said on Tuesday.

"However, under the circumstances we believe it is the correct course of action to ensure the health and wellbeing of our customers and employees. We empathise with government's unenviable position with regards to balancing the health of the nation and the suffering economy."

Comair added that the "rampant transmissibility of the Covid-19 Delta variant" had also influenced its decision to extend the grounding of its flights.

Kulula ticketholders who have booked flights between 28 June to 31 August can change their travel dates online and will not be charged a booking fee. No fare difference on the new booking will be charged either, according to Comair.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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