Lockdown flies global airlines into turbulence

Tuesday November 10 2020

The number of air travellers has reduced since the outbreak of Covid-19. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The global airline industry is yet to clear the turbulence caused by the Covid-19 pandemic with prospects of an early recovery crashed by the onset of a second Covid-19 wave in Europe. Many countries that had partially opened up are still maintaining quarantines, severely constraining demand for travel.

France and the United Kingdom, the biggest markets in Europe for East African horticulture and a tourism source market are back into lockdown, potentially dampening prospects for the festive season for producers and hospitality industry.

The shockwaves are being felt by East African airlines with Kenya Airways (KQ), the region’s biggest carrier, now forced to suspend plans for the resumption of services to New York until November 29 at least. The lockdowns in Europe has also forced an adjustment of the Nairobi-London service from four frequencies to two per week.

“However, this adjusted passenger capacity has been substituted by freighter capacity (our passenger aircraft used for cargo operations) which has increased frequencies from two to four weekly,’’ said KQ managing director Allan Kilavuka. He was also upbeat that overall cargo demand remains upbeat given that we are in the peak of the pre-festive season.

Although East Africa’s airspace has been open since October 1, capacity restrictions mean that airlines are operating fewer flights. Uganda for instance has allowed only one daily flight per airline per destination, resulting in decent load factors but more idle fleet.

Travel had started picking up when Covid-19 curves started flattening. In its latest briefing this Tuesday, however, the airline industry’s lobby IATA, says that earlier recovery had started showing signs of stalling during September.


African airline traffic fell 88.5 percent during September, almost matching the 88.7 drop registered in August while capacity shrank 74.7 percent and load factors fell further to just 32.6 percent.

Global demand for air travel as measured in revenue passenger kilometres for the month was 72.8 percent down on the comparable period for 2019. The number of seats deployed by airlines was 63percent down on September 2019 while the load factor also fell 21.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

“We have hit a wall in the industry’s recovery” says IATA chief executive Alexander de Juniac.

“A resurgence in Covid-19 outbreaks, particularly in Europe and the US, combined with governments’ reliance on the blunt instrument of quarantine in the absence of globally aligned testing regimes, has halted momentum toward re-opening borders to travel,” he told media briefing Tuesday.