Airlink to return to Madagascar
Expectations are running high after it was reported that Madagascar’s Foreign Minister told SA President Cyril Ramaphosa that his government would soon allow Airlink to resume flights to Madagascar, following a ban of almost three months.
South African airlines were specifically not allowed to resume flights to Madagascar after the island nation lifted its COVID-19 travel ban in April.
Before the pandemic, Airlink operated a daily return flight between Johannesburg and Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar and its commercial hub. The carrier also served Nosy Be on a weekly seasonal basis. The airline now says it intends to resume services on these two routes as soon as the ban on flights between South Africa and Madagascar has been lifted.
Nosy Be is a unique idyllic island destination that had grown in popularity with South African tourists who love the idea of a non-commercialised beach holiday with plenty of opportunities for adventure excursions and activities. They include world-class scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, sport fishing and exploring unspoilt beaches and encountering the indigenous lemurs of the area.
“This restriction on flights has been a major disappointment for everyone who wants to travel between South Africa and Madagascar for business, leisure and to reconnect with relatives and friends who they have been unable to visit for the past two years,” says Airlink CEO and MD, Rodger Foster.
“Similarly, it is a setback for trade between the two countries. We have received significant interest from people in South Africa, the island nation, our neighbouring countries and in North America, who are keen to book tickets. This ban and absence of any explanation for it by authorities in Antananarivo has been a source of great frustration for them,” he adds.
Industry mavens say the reason for the ban was to put pressure on South Africa to return 73,5kg of gold bullion confiscated when three Malagasy nationals were arrested on arrival in South Africa in December 2020. The Daily Maverick article suggests that South Africa has been opposing the return of the gold and the couriers, on the grounds that they were involved in smuggling contraband, and so should remain in South Africa until legal proceedings are concluded.
Madagascar has not yet specified a date for Airlink’s return.
Madagascar did not explicitly ban Airlink from its route. Airlink happened to be the only South African airline running scheduled services between the two countries. Madagascar put out a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) in April this year, specifically exempting all countries (other than South Africa) from the COVID-19 ban, which had been in place for two years.