Ten African airlines hit hard by coronavirus pandemic

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 00:00 |
Kenya Airways plane. Photo/Courtesy

Multiple flights have been cancelled or suspended across Africa as airlines struggle to cope with falling demand following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (Covid-19). International Air Transport Association (IATA) data shows as of March 11, African airlines had recorded a loss of up to $4.4 billion (Sh44 billion) in revenue since the outbreak of the pandemic. Here are some of the African carriers feeling the heat of the outbreak, according to IATA

South African Airways 

As of last Wednesday, the South African national carrier, announced that it had cancelled up to 162 international and regional flights due to restrictions and low demand following the spread of coronavirus.

SAA has racked up 26 billion rand (Sh160 billion) of losses over the past six years and was placed in a local form of bankruptcy protection in December to end a damaging cycle of government bailouts.

The administrators have cut back the number of domestic and international routes and started a legal process with the company’s 4,708 employees about job cuts, while trying to reduce costs across the board.

Kenya Airways

The pandemic has hit the local aviation industry hard following the government ban on airlines flying in from countries that have reported coronavirus cases and the national carrier is no exception.

Already in what is seen to be aimed at helping the cash-strapped airline stay afloat, the airline’s Chief Executive Allan Kilavuka taking a 35 per cent pay cut  and board members also agreeing to forego their monthly fees and sitting allowances.

KQ, as the airline is commonly known has already cancelled a number of flights to major hubs including Guangzou, China, where small traders go to buy manufactured goods that can be flown in cargo planes.

South African Airways. Photo/Courtesy

China is where the virus was first reported. The airline also suspended flights on the Rome-Geneva route on March 12 as Italy continues to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Other routes that have been suspended include Geneva, Bangkok, Djibouti and Khartoum. The cancellations are likely to aggravate the carrier’s cash flow problems.

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines Group has lost over $190 million (Sh19 billion) as the impact of the coronavirus on global travel hurts Africa’s only consistently profitable airline.

The Beijing-Addis Ababa route is worst hit due to significant numbers reduction.

According to a report by QZ Africa, airlines like the Ethiopian flew in about 1,500 passengers on average from China every day.

The giant career which has for years been the envy of rivals across the country has currently suspended flights to 30 destinations pending assessment of Covid-19 status even as demand clearly drops.

Prime Minister Abiy Mohamed has admitted that under the current situation, the airline is facing huge challenges which will also affect the economy at large.

Earlier this month, chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam told a gathering at the fifth Africa Aviation conference in Addis Ababa the number of passengers have reduced by 20 per cent.

Nigeria Airways

According to IATA, Nigeria Airlines risk losing 853,000 in passenger volume as a result of the spreading Covid-19.

Nigeria Airways.

Currently in Nigeria, travellers from countries with more than 1,000 reported cases of coronavirus are barred from entering the country.

Indeed there are now threats of job losses in the Nigerian Aviation sector. Nigeria is restricting entry into the country for travellers from 13 countries including the US and UK which are its key markets.

Issuance of visa on arrival for the said countries is likely to complicate matters for the airline sector which has in the recent past struggled in financial mismanagement.

Egypt Air

Egypt has halted all air traffic from its airports until end of this month due to the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic.

The country has one of the highest cases of Covid-19 in the continent, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics.

Local firms in the aviation sector would suffer losses of 2.25 billion Egyptian pounds (Sh14.3 billion) due to the latest measures. Tourism is a key sector for the populous Arab country.

Tourism revenue rose to a record high of $12.57 billion (Sh1.3 trillion) in the last financial year.

Egypt’s economy relies heavily on foreign tourism, and in February alone hosted more than 900,000 tourists.



The International Air Transport Association has estimated that Rwanda’s aviation sector is likely to lose out on 79,000 passengers for the remainder of this year as a result of coronavirus.

Rwanda has already suspended all arriving and departing commercial passenger flights for 30 days.

The suspension also affects national carrier RwandAir, but it will not affect cargo and emergency flights.

The decision to suspend air travel comes after Rwanda confirmed an additional three coronavirus cases.

Initially, RwandAir had suspended flights to and from China–the first country to be hit by Covid-19– Israel and India, a decision that was taken few days before infections were reported in Rwanda.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, several tourists cancelled bookings, leaving tour operators and other stakeholders counting losses.

Rwanda Convention Bureau, which promotes the country as a preferred destination, says about 20 meetings ,which had been scheduled for March and April, was indefinitely postponed as a result of the flights ban. 

Air Mauritius

Mauritius is a very small country far away from China – and yet greatly affected by the coronavirus.

The sector feeling the impacts first is tourism. About 44,000 visitors from China were expected this year, staying an average of 10 days and spending a total amount worth the equivalent of € 25 million (Sh3.087 billion).

It will be difficult for hotels to attract more tourists from other destinations to make up for the losses.

Air Mauritius, the state-owned airline, cancelled all flights to mainland China and Hong Kong for the foreseeable future.

Those flights normally add up to five per cent of its total seats capacity. Part of the air travel is tourism, but business relations, academic exchange and others are compromised, too.

Morocco Airlines

Morocco has also suspended all international flights from its airports. The impact of Covid-19 has been massive and job cuts could be looming for the aviation sector in the Maghreb nation.

More than 12 million tourists visit Morocco every year, according to 2018 figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, including 305,000 Americans, making it Africa’s most popular destination.

Only recently Morocco’s tourism ministry announced it had “authorsed 100 exceptional flights to allow the repatriation of tourists to their countries.

Mission Morocco is supporting the repatriation via chartered flight of more than 1,000 American citizens stranded in Morocco as that country halted its air, land and maritime links to slow the virus’s spread.

Ghana Airlines

Ghana Aviation sector has been hit by the current ravaging coronavirus pandemic. Ghana Airways has through a recent statement okayed suspension of operations.

The suspension is due to various moves to protect customers and staff from contracting the Covid-19.

Top operators such as  Emirates Airlines, Delta Airlines and Brussels Air have stopped operating to Ghana. Ghana’s Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah last week issued a travel advisory which discourages all travels to the country until further notice.

The government has also instructed airlines not to allow persons from affected countries to disembark; and also urged border posts not permit such travellers into their jurisdiction.

Ugandan Airlines

Uganda Airlines has announced planned suspension of flights to Mogadishu, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, Zanzibar and Nairobi due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Ugandan Airlines.

President Yoweri Museveni also announced a travel ban to and through high-risk countries including Italy, San Marino, Iran, South Korea, France, China, Germany, Spain, Belgium, USA, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Austria, and Malaysia which are among its key markets.

With no flights heading to Guangzhou and Shanghai - the leading sources of Uganda’s imports from China – because they have all been cancelled, orders have been pushed for months. At the same time, stocks are also tumbling.

More on Lifestyle