South Africa’s air capacity has risen following a bleak period for airports and airliners in the country.

During her speech on the latest tourism data from the Department of Tourism, Minister Patricia De Lille said that capacity has risen since last year, with a 56% increase in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the previous year.

“In 2023, we reached 1.8 million seats, and South Africa welcomed around 23 new routes,” said the minister.

The latest data from the department showed a promising outlook for the industry, with first-quarter data reflecting a total of 2.1 million visitors, with many coming from abroad through air channels.

According to De Lille, new flights include Cape Town to New York and Washington by United Airlines, and Air China’s resumed direct flight to South Africa.

The upcoming LATAM flight from Brazil to OR Tambo International Airport has also increased the country’s flight capacity.

De Lille added that South African Airways’ expansion into various African markets has further boosted the country’s attractiveness.

“In terms of aviation supply, seats from the Americas doubled in Q1 2023, surpassing 2019 levels,” said De Lille.

“The Middle East has fully recovered in outbound travel, and Europe has introduced five new airlines and routes to South Africa.”

The new transport minister Sindiswe Chikunga has reaffirmed the air transport industry’s commitment to improving through partnerships with private enterprises and investment opportunities.

The industry is fundamentally different to how it was five years ago; these are realities that policy needs to be adjusted to account for, she said. South Africa’s air travel industry is looking to focus on emerging technologies as well as changes in consumer behaviour.

Air travel in South Africa has been under scrutiny over recent years due to its high cost, even domestic travel.

Compounding issues, including a 40% drop in air capacity in 2022 after leading airline Comair liquidated, aviation fuel costs skyrocketing by 80% and increased demand following travel restrictions being lifted, have all contributed to increased ticket prices.

A recent study by Discovery Bank in partnership with Visa found that South African ticket prices increased by 30% to 55% for local flights in 2022, compared to 2019.

The study further showed that when looking at travel transactions across international and domestic flights, South Africans now spend 14% more on leisure and 24% more on business travel per trip.

It added that travel spending on flight tickets for domestic flights increased six times more than that on international flights.

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