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Optimism in the aviation industry after tough year

Tuesday December 22 2020
Aviation pix
By Alex Nelson Malanga

Dar es Salaam. Operators in the Tanzania aviation industry have expressed optimism for a rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic next year after passing through tough times in 2020.

However, the forecast improvement is “nowhere near the increase in business confidence” - particularly for international travel, which is still impacted by factors such as border restrictions, quarantines and frequency limits, analysts said.

Going by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), widespread recovery could take until 2024 to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Swissport Tanzania - which has been providing ground handling services for 35 years now - said 2021 is not going to be a great year but there are good signs of business recovery.

The company’s chief executive officer, Mrisho Yassin, said they won’t achieve what they really wanted to achieve in terms of business but they will achieve reasonable growth compared with 2019.

“As we speak today, the cargohandling business is fully recovered,” Mr Yassin told The Citizen by phone.

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Swissport has since March to June been operating at 40 per cent of its pre-Covid capacity, before hitting 80 percent from July to November.

“We are confident our cargo business will continue doing well in 2021,” noted Mr Yassin.

He said the ground handling business is still recovering and that until now they have recovered 65 percent of the pre-Covid business.

The ground handler said it was looking forward to continuing recovering slowly in 2021.

“It is not going to be full recovery in 2021, there would be some struggles,”

“Full recovery for the ground handling is expected by the year 2022 because of the second wave of the pandemic as we don’t know how long will it take for the vaccination to be accessible to people.”

Beginning of the year was very bright when Swissport started 2020 as a business because they had Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) as a new customer on January 1.

Unfortunately the Covid-19 erupted around the globe and massively affected the aviation industry.

Lesson

“There was a lot of learning…we learnt to be resilient. We also learnt to be persistent in a way we are looking at the business,” said Mr Yassin.

“We learnt to go back to re-assess and re-evaluate our strategies and programs in a way we are doing business to be able to cope with challenges.”

Swissport which offers cargo and ground handling services had to retrench between 150 and 200 of its staff.

“We had to retrench because with a decrease in business volume we cannot utilise the entire workforce (1,000 staff) that we have,” Mr Yassin was quoted by The Citizen in the recent past as saying.

To cope with the situation, the company was also forced to send on unpaid leave some 400 staff.

“To date we only have 112 staff on unpaid leave from more than 400 staff who were on unpaid leave when Covid started, thanks to improvement in business” he said.

Yesterday the Swissport boss said: “The fact that we have been able to sail through 2020, I am very much proud as the CEO of Swissport because it was really a tough year.”

ATCL for its part said business performance was not good, with its managing director saying tough requirements of Covid-19 control such as total lockdown have paralysed the air transport market.

However, Mr LadislausMatindi, said there are signs of recovery as the national carrier is returning international flights though at limited operations.

He expounded that many countries are limiting a number of frequencies to two/three per week even if your capacity is higher than that.

“The market has just started picking up. For the domestic market, somehow I can say the market has normalised,” said the ATCL boss.

The airline is now operating at between 90 and 95 percent of its pre-Covid domestic market capacity.

At the peak of the pandemic - from March up to September - operations went down by 80 percent, suggesting that it was operating at only 20 percent.

ATCL’s monthly passenger traffic stood at 70,000 before Covid-19.

“Passengers feeling insecure, hassles associated with travel including undergoing Covid-19 testing and other control measures put off passengers,” said MrMatindi.

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