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Shipping & Logistics

Airlines stare at bleak future as corona disrupts travelling

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Passengers sit in the waiting hall at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on Monday. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Local airlines are staring at a bleak future following the outbreak of coronavirus which has so far claimed the lives of over 6,400 people across the world.

The airlines, majority of who ply local and international routes frequented by tourists, say they are staring at a sharp fall in revenues due to the ongoing cancellation of flights.

“It’s a difficult time in the industry. Numbers are plummeting,” said Safarilink chief executive Alex Avedi in a phone interview with the Shipping& Logistics yesterday.

Mr Avedi noted that following the outbreak of Covid-19 virus, cancellation of flights especially by foreign tourist who use the airlines to connect to destinations such as Maasai Mara, has been on the rise.

He noted that their travellers, who normally plan for a seven-day visit into the country are opting to reschedule their flights because, even if they were to come, they will be quarantined for 14 days.

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“There are those who are worried that if they come into the country, they have to be quarantine first. No one is willing to go that route,” Mr Avedi said.

“The airline will not send home its workers during this low-season but will ask them to take unpaid leave if necessary.”

Low-cost carrier Jambojet, which has been serving both domestic and international routes, on Monday suspended its operations on the Kigali and Entebbe routes following the spread of coronavirus, which the airlines said has resulted in a decline in the number of passenger bookings.

The airline said the flights to Rwanda and Uganda will remain suspended with immediate effect in a move which is likely to further dent its revenue this financial year.

The airline, however, did not indicate when it is hoping to resume normal operations on the routes that have been cancelled.

“Over the past few weeks, there has been a global spread of Covid-19 which has resulted in a decrease in airline passengers especially on the international routes,” said the airline in a statement Monday.

“As a result, Jambojet has decided to suspend its services to Kigali, Rwanda and Entebbe, Uganda with immediate effect.”

The airline however indicated that it would rebook customers affected by suspension of flights on the routes to alternative flights.

The airline also indicated that flights on local destinations including Malindi, Ukunda, Mombasa, Kisumu as well as Eldoret will continue to operate as scheduled.

“We would like to reiterate that the safety of our passengers and staff remains of utmost importance to us. We will continue to monitor the situation and share regular updates,” said the airline.

The temporary suspension of flights by Jambojet comes barely a few days after Embattled National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) also stopped its flight on Rome-Geneva route following the outbreak of coronavirus.

The airline in a statement released on Thursday last week said the flights to Italy and Switzerland will remain suspended effective March 13, 2020.

The loss-making airline will however continue flying to other routes albeit with adjusted schedules.

KQ also suspended flights to Malindi effective March 16 until further notice. It also suspended one flight to Mumbai, India effective March 17, 2020 to April 15, 2020.

“The remaining Mumbai KQ204/5 frequency will be upgraded to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner effective March 17, 2020 to April 15, 2020,” said KQ in statement.

The impact of coronavirus has decimated airlines across the globe, especially US and Europe, following closure of national borders and grounding of flights.

Choked by the stringent antivirus measures, America's biggest airlines have called for more than $50 billion (Sh5 trillion) in bailout to mitigate against the effect of the pandemic.

US President Donald Trump on Monday promised his administration will give airlines "100 percent" support.

Across the globe, the airline industry is facing massive losses and widespread layoffs as lockdown keeps passengers at home.

African airlines are also beginning to feel the pinch.

Tunisia has announced it will be closing its land borders and airspace to all commercial activities from today, in a bid to protect the country from the spread of coronavirus.

All commercial flights are to be cancelled, but arranged evacuation flights will be permitted. Trade and cargo will not be affected by these measures.

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