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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on August 16, 2009

Fever pitch

How are South Africa’s airports preparing for an influx of visitors during the 2010 football World Cup? Lucy Siebert reports.

Figures show that South Africa is now officially in recession with Africa’s biggest economy having contracted at an annualised rate of 6.4% between January and March, compared with the same period a year earlier – the first time that the country has been in recession since 1992.

There is, however, a bright ray of light at the end of the tunnel – the 2010 football World Cup and the massive construction projects associated with it.

Unlike mining and manufacturing, South Africa’s construction industry is showing few signs of a slowdown, largely due to preparations ahead of next year’s premier football event, and the country’s airports are currently a hotbed of building activity.

The Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) has pumped millions of dollars into a brand new airport in Durban and upgraded spaces at Johannesburg and Cape Town in preparation for the hundreds of thousands of fans that are expected to descend on the country next June.

Solomon Makgale, communication manager for ACSA, says that the 2010 Local Organising Committee has forecast that there will be about 400,000 people travelling to South Africa during the event and ACSA is forecasting a 9.9% increase in passenger traffic for the 2010/11 financial year.

In 2008, total passenger numbers at ACSA airports grew 10.6% to 36.4 million (up from 33 million in 2007) and traffic movements grew by 7.7%. The airport operator attributed this growth to the domestic passenger sector, which grew by 10.9% to 26.2 million passengers, with low-cost airlines accounting for 34% of the domestic market. International passenger numbers rose by 9.9% to just over 9 million.

It is a different story in 2009 though, with figures for the 12 months ending in June, showing that traffic at Johannesburg – OR Tambo International Airport was down 9.3% and both Cape Town and Durban declined by 7.6% and 9.5% respectively.

However, the airport company believes its projections for 2010 remain solid. “ACSA has been key in providing a detailed demand analysis for the entire industry, working in association with the Department of Transport through the Aviation Sub-Sector Task Team. This is an industry collective forum that will provide the detailed logistics and operational plan for the aviation industry’s 2010 requirements,” points out Makgale.

The biggest component of ACSA’s infrastructure programme is the new $756.5 million King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, outside Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. Occupying 35 hectares and with a capacity to handle six million passengers a year, the airport will also have a cargo terminal with a perishable facility aimed at boosting trade in the province. In addition, it will be linked with the seaports at Durban and Richards Bay.

A nod of confidence to the opening of the new airport next year was the announcement by Emirates that is plans to start scheduled international flights into Durban in October 2009. It is hoped that these daily flights will be a boost to manufacturing in the province and they should also attract VFR traffic due to Durban’s sizeable Indian population, who will find Emirates’ onward connections to the subcontinent attractive.

However, Emirates will only be operating into Durban International Airport for a few months, as the new airport is scheduled to open on May 1, 2010, after which all operations will shift there. In the run-up to this date, ACSA is readying itself with the Operational Readiness and Transfer Program (ORAT) and consultants from AURECON, the multi-disciplinary infrastructure consultancy group, and Munich-based LGM are working on the logistics of the big move.

Meanwhile, up in Johannesburg, major developments are underway or have already been completed at OR Tambo International, most significantly the new $244 million Central Terminal Building (CTB), which links the domestic and international terminals. Arriving international passengers are already being processed through a single entry terminal that consolidates the old Terminals A1 and A2 and a new baggage system has more than doubled the number of bags that can be handled – 8,000 bags per hour at peak operation. In November 2009 an additional four baggage carousels will become operational, bringing the number of baggage carousels in the new arrivals terminal to a total of 10. The CTB is connected to the new Gautrain Rapid Rail link, which will connect the airport and the business hubs of Sandton, Midrand and Pretoria. The international departures terminal has also had a major upgrade, to the tune of $13.5 million, plus there is a new $68.7 million international pier.

While these are major infrastructure projects, ACSA has also sought to reflect South Africa’s cultural and natural heritage in many of the finished spaces at OR Tambo. According to ACSA, the wooden inlays in some of the structures were inspired by the patterns found on African basket ware, the multi-coloured patterns in the carpets of the International Pier departure lounges allude to Ndebele paintings and the granite tile pattern on the floor of the Central Atrium refers to the stripes and beading of the traditional Xhosa skirt.

At South Africa’s premier tourism city, Cape Town, the airport is getting a new $167 million central terminal (called Terminal 2010) and a second multi-storey $51.5 million parkade. In addition, the airport will get a new automated baggage sortation system and, for the first time, five air bridge gates (including one wide-bodied) for domestic flights.

ACSA is, however, realistic that the economic slowdown will affect its business and has consequently adjusted its outlook somewhat. Makgale says: “ACSA has already undertaken a review of the infrastructure expenditure programme and postponed, where feasible, uncommitted projects in light of the decline in traffic profile.”

Looking beyond the current crisis, there is a draft masterplan in place for OR Tambo International that forecasts for development beyond 2030, allowing it to potentially accommodate 60mppa.

Whilst the majority of work and capital has gone into upgrading ACSA’s three biggest airports, the smaller regional airports have not been excluded. In 2008, capital developments at the national airports accelerated and many (including Port Elizabeth and George) have been upgraded with terminal expansions and major runway refurbishments. While ACSA is by far the largest airport operator in Southern Africa, there are two other small airports in South Africa who are looking to benefit from 2010.

In the east of the country is Mpumalanga province (“place of the rising sun”), which is home to the privately owned Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), located near to some of South Africa’s most loved tourist attractions – not least the worldfamous Kruger Park.

The airport is in the heart of a tourism hotspot, but the province’s capital city, Nelspruit (a 2010 World Cup host city) is also increasingly important for agriculture, manufacturing and construction. Nelspruit is now linked directly to Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo, via a new modern highway and there is brisk cross-border trade between the two cities.

While things are changing fast in the region, KMIA has retained its African charm. “The first thing that people notice is the airport’s unique African bush design. Visitors often remark that they immediately feel like they have arrived in the Kruger National Park when they see the terminal building from the runway as they land,” says Marius Nel, KMIA’s managing director.

But despite its rustic exterior, the 3.1km runway can handle widebody aircraft, including B747s. Once on the ground, the compact airport means that passengers can quickly be on their way to the nearest KNP gate – just a 15-minute drive away.

The airport has already increased air travel into the region by 221% since it opened in 2002, with a variety of local operators flying to Johannesburg and Mozambique, but there remain many opportunities to grow this further. The airport has also proved popular with charters bringing in international incentive groups and many celebrities have flown their private jets in there, including Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and Ernie Els.

KMIA did lose scheduled services to Johannesburg following the demise of local airline Nationwide in 2008, but Nel is optimistic that this gap will be filled soon. “We are proactively targeting the low-cost operators and believe that we will get an LCC service by the end of 2009,” he says.

The arrival of an additional local airline would be in line with Nelspruit’s preparations for an influx of visitors in the run-up and during the 2010 event. As a host city, Nelspruit is building a brand new stadium, where four matches will be played, and Nel believes the coverage that the city and its surrounds will attract during the World Cup will be vital to its future tourism growth.

“For the region, 2010 will really be an opportunity to showcase the destination and our offerings to a wider range of visitors, as well as the television audiences all over the world. There will, of course, be more traffic through the airport, up to 600 passengers an hour, but 2010 is really about spreading the word about the region,” says Nel.

Back in Johannesburg is Lanseria International Airport, located in the north west part of the city, rather than towards the east like its competitor, OR Tambo. This small, private airport has become increasingly popular with many travellers in the business hub of Sandton and the surrounding areas due to low-cost carrier kulula.com launching flights to Cape Town and Durban in recent years. The airport is popular with private jets during key international events in Johannesburg and Pretoria – for instance this year’s inauguration of South Africa’s new president – and it is likely that Lanseria will see a surge in private and charter traffic during the World Cup.

The most significant pre-World Cup test for South Africa was the Confederations Cup in June this year – an event that was hailed as a resounding success. That must have given South Africa – and its airports – a big confidence boost as it prepares to play host to the world’s football fans in 2010.

Airport World 2009 - Issue 4

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