South Africa’s shadow public enterprises minister is insisting that the government ease air transport pressures by allowing other operators to conduct repatriation services.

Ghaleb Cachalia, from the opposition Democratic Alliance party, argues that South African Airways – which has been mired in a drawn-out business rescue process – does not have sufficient cash to carry out the task properly.

The party says the government, particularly its international relations department, should “facilitate” flights to and from South Africa.

It has sought clarification from the government as to whether SAA is being given preferential treatment at the expense of other carriers.

“SAA has no cash in its coffers,” says Cachalia, describing the airline as a government “vanity project”.

“In the absence of shouldering its responsibility to South African citizens, the very least that can be done is for [the international relations department] to facilitate other international carriers that are willing to step into the breach.”

SAA’s repatriation efforts had been threatened by its financial predicament, with the carrier’s business rescue practitioners having previously declared that it did not have sufficient funding to maintain such flights beyond early May.

Although the government started easing the lockdown on 1 June, South Africa’s air transport system remains in poor shape, with three major carriers under various levels of financial pressure.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula, during an inspection visit to Johannesburg airport on 3 June, stated that the government’s gradual release of lockdown measures would mean a phased introduction of domestic services at the country’s airports.

Johnannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Lanseria would be covered in the first phase.

This will extend subsequently to Bloemfontein, Kruger and Polokwane airports, before a third phase brought in Kimberley, East London, Port Elizabeth, Upington and Umtata.

Mbalula also stated that only passengers would be allowed inside terminal buildings, which would be fitted with temperature-screening systems, and passengers would need to follow measures including social-distancing and wearing of face-masks.

Aircraft will be boarded in sections – aft first – to minimise contact. No catering or magazines will be provided, while the last row of seating will be reserved for isolation of suspected coronavirus cases.