The departure of the LATAM arilines aircraft from OR Tambo International Airport, on Wednesday April 1. Picture: ACSA.
The departure of the LATAM arilines aircraft from OR Tambo International Airport, on Wednesday April 1. Picture: ACSA.

The first repatriation flight permitted after transport minister Fikile Mbalula amended aviation regulations during SA's 21-day national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, has left for Brazil, Airports Company SA (Acsa) has announced.

A LATAM airline flight left SA on Wednesday morning carrying 321 passengers heading for Sao Paulo, Brazil.

On Tuesday, Mbalula announced amendments to aviation directives, now allowing citizens and permanent residents stuck overseas to return home and for foreign nationals stuck in SA to be repatriated.

“All international and domestic passenger flights are still prohibited, irrespective of the risk category of the country of origin, except those flights especially authorised by the ministry of transport, for the evacuation of SA nationals in foreign countries,” he said.

Group executive for corporate affairs Refentse Shinners on Wednesday said there were no major challenges in making the necessary operational arrangements for the LATAM flight.

The crew of the LATAM aircraft did not disembark, as per the regulations. The aircraft carried an additional 16 crew members so that it could do a crew change at the airport. The 16 crew members for the flight into SA returned to Brazil as passengers.

“We are very grateful to our staff and the various role players that moved quickly overnight to ensure the successful facilitation of this repatriation flight,” Shinners said.

“We are especially appreciative of the work done by officials of the Brazilian embassy who managed the process exceptionally well and ensured that the passengers were safely transferred to the airport by bus.”

Mbalula said the repatriation of foreign nationals from SA back to their respective countries was allowed, provided that foreign countries charter their aircraft to SA without passengers, only crew. The crew will not be allowed to disembark.

A group of German tourists are also due to be repatriated by the German government.

The US Embassy in SA is also collecting data of US citizens in the country who wish to be repatriated.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za