SOUTH African Airways (SAA) has scaled down capacity and grounded 162 flights in response to the low demand for air travel, triggered by the Coronavirus outbreak that has engulfed the globe.

The effects of the outbreak of COVID-19 have led to travel disruptions and restrictions across the world, leading to the grounding of an unprecedented fleet of aircraft, releasing of employees, and cancellation of flights for the globe’s top airlines.

In a statement availed by SAA Zambia country manager Vincent Mupwaya, Wednesday, the South African national carrier announced that its flights had been significantly scaled down in response to the virus outbreak, cancelling a total of 162 flights from March 17 to 31, 2020.

“For the period 17 until March 31, 2020, SAA has cancelled a total of 162 flights. Of these, 38 are international and 124 are regional (destinations on the African continent) flights. At the same time, the airline is continuing to provide a service on the domestic, regional and international networks for those passengers whose travel is essential and cannot be avoided. For the time being, the airline will continue to operate to and from destinations unaffected by travel restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the Coronavirus,” read the statement issued from SAA’s Johannesburg headquarters.

“In light of the substantial fall in demand for air travel, SAA has reviewed its flight schedule and has decided to operate flights only under circumstances where its load factors and other business considerations weigh in favour of scheduling flights. However, certain flights that have been negatively impacted more than others, are consequently cancelled.”

Commenting on the unprecedented development, SAA’s chief commercial officer Philip Saunders stated that the carrier was “aggressively” reviewing its schedule to match capacity in line with demand.

“Notwithstanding the decline in demand, SAA continues to aggressively review its schedule to match capacity with demand to the extent possible. Where feasible, we will consider options that include cancelling and merging flights,” stated Saunders.

“Our priority is to assist those travellers wishing to repatriate to their home countries to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. Naturally, this includes South African citizens abroad wishing to return home.”

Subject to the conditions set out in the travel ban announced by the South African government, SAA will also facilitate the transfer of qualifying passengers to or from the destinations it flies to, which have been classified as high-risk areas, according to the statement.