Acsa: No word on when UK-bound flights will resume

The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) was still awaiting word on Monday on when flights would resume to the United Kingdom and Europe, a spokesperson said.

“London is closed; no flight can go in and out of London until further notice,” said Acsa spokesperson Unathi Batyashe-Phyllis.

Earlier, it had been hoped that flights could resume to the UK, Frankfort and Munich by the earliest on Tuesday, Wednesday the latest.

But, said Batyashe-Phyllis, rain and bad weather were complicating the situation in London.

“Until London can communicate to us what time and when flights can fly we don’t know anything else.”

Some European countries were tentatively reopening airspace after the ash billowing out of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland began moving away.

Agencies reported that airspace in southern Europe, Portugal, Spain, parts of Italy, France, the Balkans, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, and parts of northern Europe had reopened.

European Union aviation ministers were due to meet over the crisis on Monday amid criticism from airlines that aviation authorities had not conducted a proper risk assessment before closing airspace.

These authorities have also been accused of neglecting to consult airlines.

The groundings had cost the aviation industry more than $200-million since Thursday, said an angry International Air Transport Association statement.

The association believes test flights have shown it is safe for aircraft to take to the sky again.

Only between 8 000 to 9 000 flights were expected in Europe on Monday, compared with the usual 28 000 for that day, according to the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Traffic.

But companies such as SAA, which has planes standing idle in South Africa, said it could do nothing until given the all clear by aviation authorities that it was safe to fly again.

“Until then, the inconvenience will continue. Immediately when the relevant authority declares the area safe for flying, flights will resume,” said SAA spokesperson Fani Zulu.

All flights from South Africa to London, Frankfurt and Munich were cancelled again on Monday.

Aviation analyst Linden Birns said: “I think everyone is feeling rather frayed around the edges because they are stuck in expensive places or they need to travel for business, family and school reasons.”

Alternative arrangements
But, the disaster not only affected passengers. It would also have affect on South Africa’s exports of perishable goods like fruit and flowers.

“A mango harvested today could be on somebody’s table tomorrow. These products have sell-by dates,” said Birns.

Stuart Symington of the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum said most of South Africa’s fresh produce was shipped to Europe, with about 1% flown over.

However, the documentation was couriered over to be processed before the ship arrives.

Exporters would have to make alternative arrangements, but it was not yet clear whether faxes would be accepted amid strict documentation rules.

Birns said SAA would not be as severely hit financially as the European airlines, as most of its business was on the African continent.

But, he added, the airline’s bills could “run up very high, very fast”, including losses from grounded flights, as well as the costs of parking the planes at airports where they are grounded, and accommodating passengers and crew.

“They are meant to be flying, not to be standing around,” said Birns.

Claude van Keirsbilck, chief sales officer for Tourvest Travel Service and a board member of the Association of South African Travel Agents, said the entire industry was affected.

But the airlines could not be blamed for what the insurance industry termed “an act of God”.

This also meant airlines and passengers may not be able to put in claims for their losses.

Airlines have encouraged passengers to find their own accommodation if possible, otherwise they can submit a request to be put up in a hotel.

Batyashe-Phyllis said there were not many people sleeping at their airports.

SAA has said it will allow people to rebook on to another flight at a later date. SAA would allocate seats according to merit. For example, unaccompanied minors would be given first preference.

A request for a refund could be submitted by those who had missed a specific event because of a cancelled flight.

The British navy has decided to fetch stranded passengers from Spain, whose airports were open, to help get some people to their destination in the UK. — Sapa

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