Airlines, Airports and Airliners News -13 April to 19 April 2020

Compiled by Willie Bodenstein


Airlink and South African Airways (SAA) are working together on a practical solution that would enable the smooth revalidation and re-accommodation of tickets and vouchers issued by SAA for travel on future Airlink flights, when scheduled passengers' services resume after the present COVID-19 preventative travel restrictions have been lifted.

In January, Airlink and SAA agreed to replace their long-standing franchise arrangement with an interline agreement to enable Airlink to accept tickets issued by SAA bearing the "083" prefix for travel on flights operated by Airlink.

However, the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis has compelled SAA to reassess and amend their respective refund policy.

In this regard, SAA is currently providing affected ticket-holders with vouchers for travel on SAA flights on future dates in lieu of refunds. As Airlink intends to recommence operations after the lockdown using its own "4Z" ticket code and flight number prefix, it is currently unable to accept SAA-issued vouchers or tickets bearing the "083" prefix.

Understandably, these changes and the confusion arising from them, have caused concern and upset, for which we offer our sincere apologies.

It is important for Airlink customers to be aware that in terms of Airlink's franchise relationship with SAA, ticket sale revenue resides with SAA for all 083 SA8 tickets until such time as Airlink has delivered the flight service. Airlink cannot refund tickets as the ticket sale revenue is in SAA's possession.

Therefore, teams from both airlines are working together to develop a clear and transparent solution that will permit the re-accommodation or revalidation of SAA-issued "083" tickets on Airlink flights into Airlink's "4Z" reservation system or alternatively for Airlink to issue vouchers for travel on Airlink on future dates.

We will provide further information as soon as everything is in place.


For the first time in its history, the Cargo division of South African Airways, SAA Cargo, operated a passenger aircraft for a pure cargo uplift.

In response to the increased demand for cargo flights to distribute critical and essential goods during the lockdown, SAA Cargo operated an Airbus A340-600 as a cargo only flight, transporting essential goods between Johannesburg and Frankfurt.

The outbound cargo included perishables such as fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, laboratory supplies as well as automotive and aircraft parts for repairs. On the inbound leg from Europe the aircraft landed last night in Johannesburg and the cargo included testing kits for COVID-19, immunological pharmaceuticals, insulin, surgical personal protective equipment (PPE) and processing equipment for food such as baby milk powder.

"SAA has demonstrated agility and we are working with our partners to provide them and our country with solutions that are relevant in these difficult times. The decision to deploy an A346, is based on both its capacity and range and so bolsters our freighter services during this time when there is high demand for cargo shipments," said SAA Cargo's acting General Manager, Justice Luthuli.

The next pure cargo flight is scheduled to depart from Johannesburg to Guangzhou. It will operate on the same aircraft type for collection and delivery of medical supplies.

SAA Cargo has stepped up as a trade facilitator and a solution provider to sustain supply chains to and from various countries. The solution is provided on a charter basis at the request of our customers, who are producers and suppliers of essential cargo. All flights are operated under strict operating procedures and in full compliance to COVID-19 civil aviation and health regulatory measures by both our staff and our customers.

"As a national carrier, we are pleased that we can contribute in response to our country's needs to bring in much needed medical supplies and other essential goods to assist in the fight against COVID-19. We extend our gratitude to all our employees for their commitment and service during this time," Luthuli concluded.


Wuhan Tianhe International Airport reopened to a reduced schedule of domestic flights after more than two months of inactivity due to the coronavirus outbreak. The airport was shut down on 23 January, amid a city-wide lockdown, aimed at curbing the outbreak's spread.

The city is a major transportation hub and receives 55 international flights each week from over 20 countries.

China Eastern Airlines was the first to operate a domestic flight out of the airport when a Boeing 737-800 carrying 46 passengers, took off bound for Sanya in Hainan province.

China Southern, that operated 48 flights, the most among the three largest Chinese carriers, on the first day of operations saw its first flight carrying 81 passengers take off bound for Chengdu.

Like China Southern, Air China's first flight of the city was also bound for Chengdu, an Airbus 320 operating flight CA8221.


Qatar Airways Cargo has increased services around the world, operating freighters and freight-only passenger aircraft to ensure the continuity of global trade and transportation of essential supplies to where they are needed during this critical time.

In the past month, the airline has transported over 50,000,000kg of medical and aid supplies to impacted regions around the globe. This equates to roughly 500 fully loaded Boeing 777 freighters.

Additional capacity has been introduced to cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Paris, Amsterdam, Muscat, Kuwait, Delhi, Beijing and Melbourne. We also continue to work closely with governments across the globe to operate freighter charters to support state's efforts to bring in humanitarian aid and essential supplies.

To ensure the safety of our crew and cargo, we have implemented special procedures for ground handling to ensure minimum contact between staff and adherence to social distancing guidelines are met. All of our freighters and passenger aircraft are equipped with face masks, gloves and hand sanitisers for our crew and all the crew and staff are screened regularly.

As an airline, Qatar Airways maintains the highest possible hygiene standards, which include the regular disinfection of aircraft, the use of cleaning products recommended by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as robust staff training.


After a solid commercial and industrial performance at the beginning of the year, Airbus is now revising its production rates downwards to adapt to the new Coronavirus market environment.

In Q1 2020, Airbus booked 290 net commercial aircraft orders and delivered 122 aircraft. A further 60 aircraft were produced during the quarter, highlighting the solid industrial performance, however they remain undelivered due to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

36 aircraft were delivered in March across the different aircraft families, down from 55 in February 2020. This reflects customer requests to defer deliveries, as well as other factors related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The new average production rates going forward have been set as follows: A320 to rate 40 per month, A330 to rate 2 per month and A350 to rate 6 per month. This represents a reduction of the pre-coronavirus average rates of roughly one third. With these new rates, Airbus preserves its ability to meet customer demand while protecting its ability to further adapt as the global market evolves.

Airbus is working in coordination with its social partners to define the most appropriate social measures to adapt to this new and evolving situation. Airbus is also addressing a short-term cash containment plan as well as its longer-term cost structure.

In its effort to support the fight against the COVID-19, Airbus has carried out extensive work in coordination with social partners to ensure the health and safety of its employees. This has been achieved by implementing new stringent work standards and processes. Airbus is contributing to the development, sourcing and ferrying of medical equipment, including facemasks and ventilators, in support of medical health services.


The loss of around 90% of flights between Europe and Asia has resulted in a major shortage of cargo capacity. Meanwhile, the corona crisis has prompted an enormous need for the rapid transportation of medical equipment and other supplies between the United States, Europe and China. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has now joined hands with Royal Philips and the Dutch government to create a special cargo air bridge between the Netherlands and China. In addition to these parties, many others are seeking additional capacity. The air bridge to Asia was launched on 13 April. ?

To maintain this vital cargo air bridge for the coming six to eight weeks, KLM will specially redeploy Boeing 747 Combi equipment for the service between the Netherlands and China. This air bridge will ensure continuous availability of special cargo capacity, with two weekly flights to Beijing and three weekly flights to Shanghai. This will ensure around 250 tonnes of extra cargo capacity each way per week.

The flights will supplement the current "skeleton schedule" that took effect on 29 March, with two weekly flights to Beijing and two weekly flights to Shanghai, operated with Boeing 787s and 777s.

The KLM/Martinair Full Freighters will continue to be deployed on North Atlantic routes, which Philips will use as an air bridge between Amsterdam and distribution points in the United States.

The Full Freighters will also continue to operate on South Atlantic routes and to destinations in Africa.

In view of the 90% decline in flights and anticipated future capacity, KLM previously decided in early March that it would phase out its remaining Boeing 747s in April 2020, instead of in the summer of 2021. For the benefit of this air bridge, however, KLM will now redeploy two Boeing 747 Combi aircraft to be used specifically on these two routes during the designated period.


Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, will partner with Australian company Elenium Automation to trial new technology which allows self-service devices at airports to be used to help identify travellers with medical conditions, potentially including the early stages of COVID-19.

Etihad will be the first airline to trial the technology, which can monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of any person using an airport touchpoint such as a check-in or information kiosk, a bag drop facility, a security point or immigration gate.

The Elenium system will automatically suspend the self-service check-in or bag drop process if a passenger's vital signs indicate potential symptoms of illness. It will then divert to a teleconference or alert qualified staff on site, who can make further assessments and manage travellers as appropriate.

In partnership with Amazon Web Services, Elenium has also developed 'hands free' technologies that enable touchless use of self-service devices through voice recognition, further minimising the potential of any viral or bacterial transmission.

Etihad will initially trial the monitoring technology at its hub airport in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, at the end of April and throughout May 2020, initially with a range of volunteers, and, as flights resume, outbound passengers.

Jorg Oppermann, Vice President Hub and Midfield Operations, Etihad Airways, said: "This technology is not designed or intended to diagnose medical conditions. It is an early warning indicator which will help to identify people with general symptoms, so that they can be further assessed by medical experts, potentially preventing the spread of some conditions to others preparing to board flights to multiple destinations."

"The system would screen every individual, including multiple people on the same booking. The technology can also be retrofitted into any airport kiosk or bag drop or installed as a desktop system at a passenger processing point such as an immigration desk. We believe the introduction of touchless self-service and automated health screening will encourage passengers to return to travel sooner."


Etihad Airways has announced a series of special passenger flights from Abu Dhabi to Brussels, Dublin, London Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and Zurich, in addition to those previously published.

Etihad Airways has been operating special flights which have allowed passengers stranded in the UAE due to COVID-19 restrictions, the opportunity to return home. The flights also support the 'UAE Food Security Program' by utilising belly-hold capacity of passenger aircraft for cargo.

The airline continues to repatriate UAE citizens on return sectors, where possible, and carry fresh produce as belly-hold cargo back to Abu Dhabi.

In addition to these newly announced destinations, Etihad continues to operate special passenger flights from Abu Dhabi to several destinations including Amsterdam, Jakarta, Manila, Melbourne, Seoul Incheon and Singapore.

These special flights from Abu Dhabi will be available for booking through, the mobile app, by calling the Etihad Airways Contact Centre on +971 600 555 666 (UAE), or through a local or online travel agency. UAE nationals wishing to return back to the UAE should contact their local UAE embassy or consulate.


While the coronavirus pandemic has forced commercial airlines worldwide to cancel flights, reduce capacity and cut costs, several long-time Pratt & Whitney customers are stepping in during this time of crisis and saving lives.

More than 185,000 passenger flights have been cancelled since the end of January, according to the International Air Transport Association, curbing vital cargo capacity. But instead of allowing passenger aircraft to sit idle on runways, these airlines have converted them to freighters to become key players in the global battle against the pandemic.

"Air cargo carriers are working closely with governments and health organizations around the world to safeguard public health while also keeping the global economy moving," said IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. "Keeping cargo flowing will save lives."

Here's four airlines stepping in to make a difference.

Delta Cargo, the freight arm of Delta Air Lines, announced a charter operation for companies with urgent shipping needs. Thirteen U.S. airports are participating in the new program. Delta is also among the airlines operating idled passenger aircraft as temporary freighters.

American Airlines operated cargo-only flights - its first since 1984 - this past weekend. An American 777-300, which holds more than 100,000 pounds of cargo, made round trips between Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Texas and Frankfurt Airport in Germany. Those flights offered much-needed capacity for many of the airline's regular cargo customers. American routinely carries freight on its domestic passenger flights.

"We have a critical role to play in keeping essential goods moving during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to do our part and find ways to continue to serve our customers and our communities," said Rick Elieson, president of Cargo and vice president of International Operations at American Airlines. "Challenging times call for creative solutions."

Cathay Pacific, which plans to reduce capacity by 96% for April and May, is evaluating a similar approach. "While our freighter network remains intact," said Ronald Lam, chief customer and commercial officer at Cathay Pacific, "we are also ramping up our cargo capacity by mounting charter services and operating suspended passenger services purely for airfreight to meet cargo customer demand."

Korean Air, which grounded 100 of its 145 aircraft and suspended nearly 90% of its commercial service, has flown several passenger aircraft as freighters in the last two weeks. Its routes to Vietnam and China, for example, transported emergency supplies and agricultural products.


Bombardier recently announced that in support of the recent mandates from the Governments of Quebec and Ontario to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will suspend all non-essential work at most of its Canadian based operations until April 26, 2020, inclusively. This suspension includes Bombardier's aircraft and rail production activities in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

Employees impacted by these temporary shutdowns will be placed on furlough, as will corporate office employees whose support functions are less critical in the short-term. During this furlough period, Bombardier's CEO and senior leadership team will forgo their pay while the Chairman and members of Bombardier's Board of Directors have agreed to forgo board compensation for the remainder of 2020.

Bombardier is also suspending its 2020 financial outlook as it evaluates the impact of temporarily closing its Canadian operations, as well as other actions being taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Since the coronavirus outbreak, the company has been focused on keeping our employees safe, serving our customers to the best of our ability during these difficult times and taking the necessary actions to protect our business for the long term," said Pierre Beaudoin, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Bombardier Inc. "In addition to the actions announced today, Bombardier has cut all discretionary spending, is continuing the work on closing the previously announced transactions and is pursuing additional measures to enhance liquidity."


Due to the continuing travel restrictions, Lufthansa decided to extend its repatriation flight schedule, which was originally scheduled to run until 19 April, until 3 May.

This also means that all remaining flights of the original flight schedule between 25 April and 3 May will be cancelled. Flights which were planned to operate until 24 April were cancelled at an earlier date. As 2 April, the route cancellations will be implemented successively and the passengers affected will be informed of the changes.

Lufthansa will thus continue to offer an urgently needed basic service. A total of 18 weekly long-haul flights are scheduled: three times a week each from Frankfurt to Newark and Chicago (both USA), Montreal (Canada), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Bangkok (Thailand) and Tokyo (Japan). Flights to Johannesburg (South Africa) had to be cancelled by 16 April due to official regulations. In addition, the airline still offers around 50 daily connections from its hubs in Frankfurt and Munich to the most important cities in Germany and Europe.

SWISS, too, will in future offer three weekly long-haul services a week to New-ark (USA) from Zurich and Geneva, in addition to a substantially reduced short- and medium-haul timetable focusing on selected European cities.

In addition to the regularly scheduled services, the airlines in the Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, SWISS, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings and Edelweiss) have been operating more than 300 special flights since March 13, taking some 60,000 holidaymakers back to their home countries of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. Around 45 further flights are already in preparation. Clients are and have been tour operators, cruise lines and governments.

In addition to regular cargo flights, the Lufthansa Group has already operated 22 pure cargo special flights with relief supplies on board. A further 34 special cargo flights are already planned.

Passengers whose flights have been cancelled or who were unable to take their flight can keep their booking and do not have to commit to a new flight date for the time being. The ticket and ticket value remain unchanged and can be converted into a voucher for a new booking with a departure date up to and including 30 April 2021. The conversion into a voucher is possible online via the air-lines' websites. Customers who choose a new travel date up to and including 31 December 2020 will also receive a 50 Euro discount on every rebooking.


Thai AirAsia says its suspension of international flights began on 22 March and will end on 25 April and that the decision was taken "in accordance with travel restrictions being enforced by various governments and relevant health authorities". Domestic flights will continue.

Cirium schedules data shows that prior to the suspension, Thai AirAsia had around 26% of its total capacity in February dedicated to international services. Flights to China, as well as to neighbouring countries Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore are the hardest hit by the suspension.

Thai Lion Air, meanwhile, said in Facebook statement on 20 March that all flights would be suspended from 25 March to 30 April. But the following day the airline said domestic services would resume from 15 April.

Around 23% of Thai Lion Air's February capacity was to foreign countries - a similar proportion to Thai AirAsia's. However, Thai Lion Air is far more reliant on the China market, with Japan, Indonesia and Singapore as its next largest markets, schedules data indicates.

The least affected of the Thai short-haul low-cost operators is Nok Air, which only serves three international destinations from Bangkok: Hiroshima in Japan, Yangon in Myanmar and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Nok Air has not suspended its Hiroshima or Yangon services, but is not flying to Ho Chi Minh City between 21 March and 31 May.

Long-haul carrier Thai AirAsia X suspended flights to Japan and South Korea on 17 March for up to three months. The carrier is also ended its Bangkok-Brisbane service on 7 April as part of a "route rationalisation initiative in response to the Covid-19 outbreak".

NokScoot tells Cirium it is suspending all flights to China, India, Japan and Taiwan for the rest of March. An announcement on its April schedule is to follow. The carrier declined to comment on whether it planned to seek relief measures from the Thai government or undertake cost-cutting measures.

Given their lack of domestic operations, the suspension of international operations will effectively result in a grounding of NokScoot and Thai AirAsia X.

Joining in the suspension of international flights is full-service operator Bangkok Airways. It states that the suspension began on 22 March and will last "until further notice".


As a national carrier, with responsibility to all its passengers, Bulgaria Air continues to operate most of its direct destinations. Routes that are not prohibited from flying by the state authorities such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Prague, Zurich, Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Athens, Varna and others are accessible to all our passengers. The airline's ambition is to provide an opportunity for everyone to return to their home country if the pandemic has found them in another country.

Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and all measures taken to control its spread, it is necessary to reduce some of the planned flights to some of the direct destinations of the airline and to merge the other part. The measure is temporary and is being taken when most airlines are landing their planes and cancelling all flights to Sofia.

The only destinations to which flights are temporarily suspended are those with temporary restrictions imposed by local authorities, namely:

Israel - the flights to Tel Aviv between March 15 and April 30 are cancelled.

Italy - our flights to Rome and Milan are cancelled until April 30.

Russia - the flights to Moscow are cancelled until April 30.

Cyprus - all flights to Larnaca are cancelled until April 17th.

The reduced demand calls for a reduction of the flights Sofia - Varna to one evening flight and Varna - Sofia - one morning. They are performed daily.

With regards to the COVID-19 spread, we would like to inform you that Bulgaria Air and the airport authorities have increased the hygiene measures and requirements for the cleaning of aircraft. Before and after each flight, the passenger compartment and the sanitary facilities are cleaned especially thoroughly and treated with special detergents both by the airline and by the authorized sanitary staff of Sofia Airport. The toilets of the airplanes are provided with hot water, soap and disinfectants. The air quality in the airplanes is guaranteed by special HEPA filtration systems that provides continuous circulation of heat-treated air up to over 200 degrees, limiting the possible spread of any contagion by air.

From March 18 there will be only bottled mineral water on the flights performed by the national carrier.

In addition, our crews are aware of all the recommendations of the World Health and International Aviation Authorities and are specially trained to act in case a COVID-19 infection is detected on board.

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