Global airline giant Emirates will resume its flights to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport from Thursday (October 8), Fouad Caunhye, the airline’s regional manager for Southern Africa confirmed to Moneyweb on Tuesday.
This comes after Dubai-based Emirates was forced to cancel its original resumption flight to the city on Sunday due to South Africa’s confusing Covid-19 travel regulations.
The rules require international airline crew, like normal passengers, to have a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for the virus within 72 hours prior to flying to the country, in addition to being restricted to possible quarantines.
The situation wasn’t made any easier by relevant government departments only announcing the regulations just before – and a few days after – the October 1 reopening of South Africa to mainstream international travel.
Confusion around the initial regulations saw Emirates warn that it may have to suspend its flights to Joburg and Cape Town, which raised alarm that other airlines could follow suit.
Caunhye said in a brief interview with Moneyweb that the issue is now resolved, without going into detail.
He also noted that the airline’s other flights to the country will now continue as planned.
Carla da Silva, chair of the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa) also confirmed that the issue has now been resolved.
“Emirates’s first [post-lockdown] flights between Dubai and Durban will resume from this Thursday, October 8, while our next flight to Cape Town is on Wednesday, October 7,” said Caunhye.
Caught off guard
“We have found a solution,” he added. “However, it is worth noting that this was not only an issue affecting Emirates. Obviously, we were caught off guard by the technical rule of the crew having to do Covid-19 tests but are happy the flights to Durban will be resuming.”
When pushed for comment by Moneyweb on how the Cape Town and Joburg flights on October 1 were allowed, Caunhye said this may have been due to the fact that the crew restrictions were not apparent at that time.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula issued a statement on Friday (October 2) regarding alert Level 1 regional and international travel to South Africa.
“Crew members shall upon arrival in South Africa be subjected to health protocols as contemplated for in health directions,” he noted as one of the department’s compliance requirements for airline crews.
Mbalula also said the department had issued a ‘Notice to Airmen’ informing pilots (of whichever gender) planning their flights to “note and comply with South Africa’s legal requirements in line with Alert Level 1”. However, this was mentioned in a section related to international outbound flights.
Following news of Emirates cancelling its Sunday flight to Durban (which broke via news agency AFP in Dubai on Saturday), worried KwaZulu-Natal provincial government and airport officials raised the issue with various national government departments over the weekend.
Barsa also raised concerns, describing some of the rules as “impractical” considering the fact that the international airline industry already has strict Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
This led to the transport department on Sunday clarifying the issue somewhat.
“Air crew who are not in possession of a negative PCR certificate will still be permitted entry into South Africa but will not be permitted to move around freely. Such crew members are expected to self-quarantine at their hotel,” it said in a statement.
In a diplomatic statement on Monday, KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development and Tourism MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube said she was “encouraged by the speed of the national government in resolving issues that resulted in the cancellation of [the] Emirates flight”.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) however lambasted the situation, saying “shambolic regulations regarding flight crews” were to blame.
Chris Hunsinger, a MP and the party’s “shadow minister of transport” said on Monday that the DA had been “inundated with calls from flight management” of different airlines regarding the “embarrassing situation”. He added that the airlines had threatened to cancel more flights due to the regulations on flight crews following initial cancellations by Emirates.
Dube-Ncube pointed out that King Shaka International had welcomed a Qatar Airways flight on Sunday afternoon, the airport’s first scheduled international flight since the lockdown began in March. She said she was confident Emirates would resume flights to Durban.
It is worth noting, however, that the Qatar Airways flight to Durban currently operates as a connecting flight via Joburg, so it is unlikely that crew would have disembarked. Emirates has historically operated a direct flight to the city from Dubai.
Dube-Ncube stressed the importance of the Emirates flight to Durban, which has been operating since 2009. She said the airline has carried more than two million passengers on the route since then.
Emirates will restart with three return flights a week to King Shaka International. Before South Africa’s initial Covid-19 lockdown and international travel ban in late March, the airline was operating a daily service on the Durban route.