Three major carriers already looking from government assistance

African air carriers are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic scare as they seek assistance from governments already facing constrained finances, reports Bloomberg.

Ethiopian Airlines Group, South African Airways and Kenya Airways are among national airlines staring at mounting losses and the destruction of growth plans put in place before the outbreak.

African carriers may lose US$4 billion in 2020 revenue as demand for travel around the continent grinds to a halt, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said last week.


All three of Africa’s biggest carriers “will, in some shape or form, have to enter into conversations with their respective governments about bailouts,” said the South African Air Services Licensing Council chairman Mike Mabasa.

While Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said that his airline won’t be able to access state help, that may change if demand for travel doesn’t return quickly.

Industry lobby IATA projected loss already looks optimistic after Ethiopian – the continent’s only profitable airline – said losses from January through April reached $550 million. IATA’s estimate for the carrier was $300 million for the year as a whole. This could delay or kill a plan to start building a new $5 billion airport slated to have a bigger capacity than London Heathrow.

Pre-corona bankruptcy

South African Airways was put into bankruptcy protection by the government even before the virus was detected in China late last year. The national carrier only had enough cash to last until this month, based on the administrator’s most recent public comments, and its only ongoing passenger flights are chartered by governments such as Germany’s to bring home national citizens.

The Kenyan government, which owns just under 50 per cent of Kenya Airways, has weighed a full nationalization of the carrier to boost its balance sheet and remains committed to that plan, Transport Secretary James Macharia said.

South Africa’s economy is in recession and the National Treasury has long made clear that the country’s debt-laden state-owned power utility is a bigger priority. Ethiopia received $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank last year to carry out a strict set of economic reforms as it tries to attract more foreign capital and create jobs.