The rather tongue twistingly named Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, more commonly referred to as SSR International Airport, hasn’t really looked back since the 2013 opening of its modern and impressive looking new terminal.
Boasting a palm tree shaped design and some of the most modern facilities in Africa, upon opening the terminal doubled the airport’s capacity to four million passengers per annum and ensured that Mauritius finally had a gateway to match its growing status in the region.
Indeed, the terminal’s opening has coincided with an unparalleled period of success for the gateway, which has won Best Airport in Africa, in the under 5mppa category in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) survey for the last three years, and enjoyed record traffic levels.
Its ASQ success led to it being inducted into the ACI Director General’s Roll of Excellence in 2016, the honour recognising airports that have delivered outstanding customer service over a sustained period of time.
SSR International Airport also received a Best Airport-Safety Award from ACI Africa last year.
A record 3.5 million passengers (+10.6%) passed through the airport last year as the gateway handled more than 19,000 aircraft movements (+10%) and 52,000 tonnes of cargo, which has enjoyed sustained growth for nearly a decade.
And with more new routes to come this year and a series of international traffic enhancing government agreements in place, 2017 looks like being another good one for the gateway, which is located on a 2,000 square kilometre island in the middle of Indian Ocean midway between Asia and Africa.
Romesh Bhoyroo, CEO of Airports of Mauritius Limited (AML), certainly has no hesitation in stating that 2016 was a “very positive year” for SSR International Airport in terms of traffic growth, and believes that this year will be even better.
“Based on the current trend of sustained yearly growth, we expect passenger numbers to increase by around 7% in 2017 and aircraft movements by 8%,” enthuses Bhoyroo.
“There are also encouraging prospects ahead in terms of freight. For instance, one of the two licenced ground handling companies operating at the airport has set up a new Cargo Terminal in the new Cargo, Freeport and Logistics zone.
“Coupled with the introduction of the ‘speed to market’ initiative by the Government of Mauritius, there is a possibility that airfreight costs might be subsidised by up to 40% for locally manufactured exports.
“The gradual increase in the export or transhipment of live and fresh fish and seafood, allows us to predict that total cargo volumes will also rise by around 5% in 2017.”
‘World class facility’
The new terminal was built and is operated under a 15-year concession by Airport Terminal Operations Limited (ATOL), a joint venture of AML and Aéroports de Paris (now Groupe ADP) subsidiary, ADPM.
Described upon opening by ADPM’s director general, Jacques Follain, as a “world class facility” that would play a crucial role in the economic development of Mauritius and help it better fulfil the demands of its growing tourist industry, the 56,900sqm complex has eight aircraft stands, one of them capable of accommodating the A380.
Made from glass and 140,000 tonnes of steel, the terminal is designed to be light and easy to navigate through as well as unique, courtesy of its distinct roof modelled on the Ravenala palm, a tree found across Mauritius.
The central section, which symbolises the trunk, covers the entrance hall, while ‘palm fronds’ cover the boarding lounges, with views of Lion Mountain, forests and green fields.
The use of colours also figures strongly in the terminal’s design and appearance. The extensive use of the colour blue in the Arrivals Hall, for example, is designed to reflect the island’s blue lagoons and the Indian Ocean; while the use of red and yellow throughout the terminal building is said to represent the island’s flora and fauna – the country’s national flower is the red bell-shaped (Trochetia Boutoniana) – and the sunshine, which is ever present.
Built on three levels, the ground floor houses tour operator desks, customs services and a baggage reclaim area with six carousels.
On the first floor, the departure concourse has 52 check-in desks situated less than 100m from the boarding lounges and more than 4,400sqm of duty-free shops. While the second floor has a 2,500sqm glazed area for dropping off departing passengers.
In line with the country’s sustainability policies, the terminal has 264 solar panels, rainwater recovery systems, natural lighting for the public areas and a host of green spaces (see green credentials overleaf).
In addition a number of water features are said to serve as an invitation to visitors to discover the country’s many waterfalls.
The gleaming €270 million facility was designed by Aéroports de Paris Ingenierie (ADPI), with Alain Davy as chief architect, and built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd.
Airlines and traffic growth
A total of 18 airlines currently serve SSR International Airport, between them operating non-stop services to more than 30 destinations across the globe. They are not surprisingly led by Air Mauritius, which accounts for the bulk of the traffic at the gateway.
The next biggest carriers in Mauritius in terms of operations are Emirates Airlines, Air Austral, South African Airways and Turkish Airlines. Dubai (transit point), Reunion Island, Paris, Johannesburg and London are the most popular routes served from the airport.
Bhoyroo expects passenger numbers at the airport to rise by an average of 5% to 7% per annum over the next five years and believes that the recently introduced Air Corridor initiative between Mauritius and Singapore will prove to be a key growth driver.
He points out that it has led to a marked increase in traffic between the two countries and that Air Mauritius is set to increase its frequency on the route to four flights per week during the Northern Winter Schedule 2017-18.
“Our national airline has already entered into an interline agreement with Singapore Airlines on certain routes that facilitate travel both ways beyond Singapore,” says Bhoyroo.
“We also expect passenger numbers at SSR International Airport to be boosted by the November launch of KLM services between Amsterdam and Mauritius, in partnership with Air Mauritius, which should bring an increase in travellers from Central and Northern
Europe to Mauritius.”
He notes that Air Mauritius – which codeshares with KLM to 47 destinations beyond Amsterdam – is currently modernising and expanding its fleet, which would better equip it to develop its route network.
And it is not just tourism that is expected to act as the catalyst for growth in the future, as Bhoyroo reveals that Mauritius has recently signed a number of business deals with countries in Asia and Africa.
“These will encourage the use of Mauritius as a platform for investment,” he comments. “We note that more and more Mauritian businesses are opening up branches in Africa, while Mauritius itself, through its collaboration with African countries, is setting up free trade zones in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana.”
Although the airport is capable of accommodating four million passengers and 65,000 tonnes of cargo annually, and up to 12 aircraft arrivals and departures per hour, rapid traffic growth means that AML
is already looking at ways of enhancing the gateway’s capacity.
“We have initiated an action plan for the refurbishment of the facilities and services in the Departures boarding lounge and associated airside corridor of our old passenger terminal to maximise the use of the aircraft contact stands and provide additional capacity to meet the forecasted increase in traffic,” says Bhoyroo.
“The works will also comprise the installation of vertical passenger circulation to connect existing aircraft stands in contact with the old passenger terminal, to the Arrivals corridor at Level 2 of the new passenger terminal. The stands will also be used for the departures boarding process.
“With regard to the Airport Master Plan, AML has already launched a bid exercise for its review prior to embarking on the next, extension phase of the main passenger terminal, and associated aircraft parking stands and car park.
“As of today, it should be noted that 60-70% of the recommendations of the existing Master Plan have been implemented.”
Elsewhere, work is scheduled to begin on the construction of a 70-metre high Air Traffic Control (ATC) Tower by end of 2017. And talking of air navigation services, Bhoyroo states that Mauritius plans switching to a satellite based navigation system that will enable more
Bhoyroo is quick to remind us that SSR International Airport achieved Level 1 Mapping status in ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme this July.
“We are the tenth African airport to be accredited, and I believe that this, and our goal to be one of the world’s most sustainable airports, means that SSR International Airport could be considered one of the continent’s environmental airport pioneers,” says Bhoyroo.
“We are now working towards devising an action plan to move ahead with the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme in the coming years. I should add that our new corporate office, which we opened in 2016, has received LEED Gold Certification from the USA Green Building Council, in recognition of its environment friendly features.
“Our efforts and environmental protection strategy also cover regular noise and air quality monitoring, the installation of oil-water separators to avoid water contamination, and the implementation of LED lighting in all recent and future projects.
“We also have a modern waste water treatment plant with a processing capacity of 1,500 cubic metres of water per day. Water treated at this facility is used for the irrigation of green spaces at the airport.”
He goes on: “Some unique green features were built into the new terminal at the time of construction that allow for the optimum use of natural sunlight through glass roof ceilings, photovoltaic panels, a more efficient air conditioning system and other amenities to ensure that the environmental impact of the terminal operations is controlled and monitored.
“We are presently focusing on solid waste segregation in a bid to better manage waste generated at the airport. As a result, we have partnered with a local NGO to collect paper and plastic waste for recycling. We expect that this will substantially reduce the amount of solid waste that ends up in our landfill sites.
“Yet, these are only a few of the initiatives we have undertaken as part of our airport environmental strategy.”
When the writer, Mark Twain, visited Mauritius in 1896 he quoted an islander as saying: “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” It’s nice to know that AML is doing its bit to ensure that this little bit of heaven remains that way for the foreseeable future.