Denis Gathanju reports on how South African airports have concluded multi-billion dollar infrastructural upgrades prior to the opening of the FIFA World Cup.
The world’s largest sporting bonanza is tantalizingly close and South Africa will be putting its best foot forward to ensure the successful hosting of the FIFA football World Cup, which will be held on African soil for the first time.
Since clinching the rights to host the finals of the beautiful game, South Africa has been working behind the scenes and pulling out all the stops to ensure that the nation is ready to successfully host the world cup finals. The most notable of the preparations has been the upgrade and modernization of its transport infrastructure that include roads, highways, railways and airports. Apart from this being part of a readiness to welcome the world during the football showcase, it is also a calculated multi-billion dollar development plan meant to remedy the skewed infrastructural development under the oppressive apartheid regime as well meeting the dynamism of a progressively expanding economy and population.
Boasting excellent airport facilities in most of its major cities, South Africa over the last few years has been been upgrading its major airports that are expected to host an influx of national football delegations and football fans from across the African continent and the world in the month-long event.
Sibusiso Ndebele, the South African Minister of Transport, has been upbeat on the refurbishment works conducted at the major airports in South Africa, noting that transport is one of the biggest economic engines of this southern African nation that needed to hum endlessly to ensure that local and international football delegations and fans are able to jet in and out hassle free.
Notes Ndebele: “Transport is the heartbeat of the South African economy. We must continue to intensify our work towards improving the social and economic development of our people. We are delighted to note that all world cup host cities have an airport.”
However, Ndebele is quick to point out that the planned upgrade of the three major international airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban had been planned long before this southern African nation won the rights to host the global football event. The planned infrastructural upgrades at the three principal airports are in line with enhancing world-class standards to meet the demands of the aviation and tourism sectors of the South African economy. The awarding of the rights to host the games, notes Ndebele, has gone a long way into fast-tracking the infrastructural upgrades and capital expenditure programmes beyond 2010.
In that respect, the South African government has pumped millions of dollars into upgrading the country’s major airports to ensure faster check-ins, safe baggage handling as well as improved security within and without the precincts of the airports. With South Africa recording the highest crime rates in the world, security for travelling fans and football delegations to and from the airports is paramount.
According to Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) it is evident that there will be an influx of visitors before, during and after the world cup finals. This, notes ACSA CEO Monhla Hlahla, is projected from previous high-profile global sporting events that South Africa has hosted in the past that include the Rugby and Cricket world cups. ACSA is a semi-privatized South African parastatal that was formed in 2002 with the dual aim of improving and upgrading standards at South African airports and improving productivity at the airports. ACSA operates and maintains ten principal airports in South Africa and handles close to 98% of South Africa commercial air traffic.
Says Hlahla: “Apart from ensuring that the airports are equipped to handle the increased aircraft, passenger and cargo volumes, the planned infrastructural upgrades take into account future and long-term infrastructure requirements at these facilities which goes beyond the football world cup finals.”
OR Tambo International
Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is the country’s largest airport. It is so by far the biggest beneficiary of the ACSA upgrading programme that will develop the airport into a world-class facility capable of handling close to 21 million passengers. Formerly known as Johannesburg International Airport, the airport was renamed Oliver Reginald Tambo International in honour of the South African freedom fighter and founder of the ruling Africa National Congress (ANC). The facility currently serves more than 18 million passengers every year and is one of the busiest airports in Africa. By the time the curtains fall down at the end of the month-long football festival, ACSA estimates that OR Tambo will handle close to 21 million passengers this year. OR Tambo is situated about 40 minutes east of central Johannesburg and within an hours’ drive of Football City and Ellis Park stadiums, the two venues within Johannesburg that will host some of the world cup matches. Football City will host the opening and final matches.
The South African government has invested heavily in upgrading the airport to handle the expected influx of passengers expected to shuttle to and from other parts of the world into South Africa. It is believed that most visitors will use this facility as the entry point when attending the month-long football extravaganza and exit using the same airport.
Major upgrading at the facility was completed in early December 2009 at a total estimated cost of South African Rand (ZAR) 17.5 billion (US$2.4bn). This includes a ZAR 5 billion (US$688m) information technology overhaul, a ZAR 4 billion (US$550m) security infrastructure upgrade and a ZAR 8 billion (US$1.1bn) for the construction of a new terminal complex at the airport. The expansion overhaul at OR Tambo has seen the airport expand its capacity to handle more passengers and aircraft.
The airport now boasts of a widened runway, nine new aprons and an ultra modern facility that can handle the new generation Airbus A380 super jumbo jet. The new high speed Gautrain has also been incorporated into the overall design concept that will necessitate faster movement of passengers from the airport to central Johannesburg, Sandton and Pretoria. The airport boasts a new rail link and terminal for Gautrain. Though construction of the Gautrain terminal and rail link is at an advanced stage, it will not be operational until after the world cup finals.
Other upgrades at the OR Tambo include a ZAR 1.8 billion (US$247m) central terminal building that connects the international terminal building to the domestic terminal building.
It also allows easy access to the new Gautrain rail link to both domestic and international passengers.
The international arrivals concourse has been more than doubled to more than 193,700 sq ft (18,000m2). It includes carousels that will enable it handle passenger loads from the new Airbus A380. It will consequently be able to handle more passengers and will accommodate more shops and kiosks that include a post office, forex (foreign exchange) kiosks, restaurants and cellular phone shops.
According to Kesavan Naicker, the ACSA Project Manager at OR Tambo International, the airport has received a ZAR 218 million (US$30m) for the construction of nine new aircraft stands while another ZAR 600 million (US$82.5m) has been pumped into expanding the capacity of the international terminal complex that will allow passengers to board and disembark from aircrafts via air bridges. A further ZAR 81 million (US$11m) has been spent on expanding the international departures concourse. This, says Naicker, will help OR Tambo International cope with increased aircraft and passenger movement at the facility before, during and after the football world cup. The original design concept of facility is however maintained that will see departing passengers access the airport through the upper level while arriving passengers will exit the facility via the ground level.
According to Chris Hlekane, OR Tambo International CEO, airport security is paramount, especially when hosting such high profile events. This has seen the airport get a new 15-mile (25km) perimeter wall that shields the airport from unauthorized intrusion. The facility’s access gates, notes Hlekane, have also been strengthened and reinforced at a cost of ZAR 53 million (US$7.3m).
However, the airport management has gone an extra mile to ensuring that national football teams and FIFA delegations coming into South Africa through OR Tambo International are fast-tracked through the immigration system on arrival at the airport. According to Hlekane, these delegations will use a special terminal building within the airport to ensure their safety and processing times at the airport.
He says: “Everything is in place to ensure that all FIFA delegations that include guest teams are facilitated through a fast-track process at a terminal different from the general public.”
According to Naicker the current upgrades at the airport will enable the facility handle passengers, cargo and aircraft until 2015 when more expansion of the facility will be required. It is estimated that the airport will handle about 30 million passengers in five years’ time, making it the busiest airport in Africa and the 72nd busiest airport in the world. It is currently served by more than 50 local and international airlines.
The airport also boasts an expanded multi-storey car park that comes equipped with a computerized parking bay detection system that helps monitor all parking bays at the airport and guides drivers to the nearest available parking slot.
Explains Naicker: “The system operates on an internet platform for any user that needs to acquire parking information at the airport. Users can also send text messages to receive up-to-the minute information on available parking slots.”
According to Hlekane, the construction of the second storey parkade will increase parking slots at the airport by 5,200 to bring the facility’s total parking slots to about 12,100.
OR Tambo is also working hard to reduce baggage pilferage at the airport. According to ACSA Airport Operations Manager Bongani Maseko, more than 30 bags are lost everyday at the airport. With a new baggage handling system and new staff at the airport, Maseko says they expect to lose no more than eight bags a day during the world cup out of the 25,000 bags handled at the airport everyday.
According to Maseko, the increased aircraft movement expected at the airport will see the facility ensure an uninterrupted supply of jet fuel to meet demand. Maseko notes that the South African Department of Energy is working to ensure that the jet fuel shortage that happened at the airport last winter is addressed. He says that there will be added jet fuel capacity at the airport to last at least five days as opposed to the current capacity of two days. The Department of Energy is seeking to have at least 16 million litres of jet fuel delivered to the airport weekly as opposed to the normal 11 million litres to meet demand at the height of the games.
Cape Town International
Cape Town International is the country’s second largest airport. The facility has come under increased pressure from international and domestic travellers over the past few years due to Cape Town’s growing stature as a tourism and business hub. The airport currently handles close to 6 million passengers annually.
The facility has been upgraded and boasts a new passenger terminal complex that was operational just before the world cup draws were conducted in Cape Town. The new central terminal building at the airport was upgraded by ACSA at an estimated cost of ZAR 1.6 billion (US$220m) that will include 120 check-in counters and 20 self-service check-in kiosks. The airport also has eight new air bridges, eleven bus gates as well as an automated baggage sorting system.
The airport sits less than 20 minutes’ drive east of central Cape Town and the Green Point Stadium that will host some world cup matches. Upgraded roadways link the airport to the city through the city’s rapid transit network.
The new central terminal building has a central processing unit on its second floor that handles departing international and domestic passengers. Before the expansion of the facility, the airport had only two air bridges that were used by international departing passengers. With the installation of eight new air bridges, departing international passengers will have three extra boarding bridges while departing domestic passengers will use five boarding bridges.
The new Airport Management Center (AMC), a unique room situated in the new terminal building that is equipped with world-class communications and monitoring systems will be the nerve center of the expanded airport. The AMC will keep the airport running around the clock as South Africa welcomes the world for the football finals. According to ACSA, the AMC will have representatives from all agents operating from the airport to assist in managing the facility in real time as well as to expedite decision making processes.
Cape Town International is Africa’s most award-winning airport that was at one time voted the tenth best airport in the world, the first award of its kind for an African airport. It has also scooped the second friendliest airport in the world award.
King Shaka International
Durban International is the third largest airport in South Africa. Situated less than 12 miles (20km) from central Durban; the airport handles about 2.5 million passengers annually. It is mainly serviced by local budget airlines and a handful of international carriers.
As the world cup draws near, there are plans to decommission the airport before the football finals in South Africa and shift operations to a brand new airport some 21 miles (35km) north of Durban city center. The newly built ZAR 7.2 billion (US$991m) King Shaka International is set to handle most flights into Durban before, during and after the football finals.
However, as this edition went to press, according to Ndebele, Durban International, set to be decommissioned on May 1, 2010, will now remain open during the world cup to handle contingencies. King Shaka International, says Ndebele, will handle the larger aircraft types while Durban International will handle smaller aircraft and business jets.
According to ACSA Project Manager at King Shaka International Sean van der Valk, the airport will have an expanded capacity to handle up to 7.5 million passengers every year compared to the current 4.7 million at Durban International. With a 12,140 x 197ft (3700 x 60m) runway, the airport can handle all large aircraft types including the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380. According to van der Valk, the new King Shaka International master plan has been designed to be expanded to handle about 45 million passengers in 50 years time.
To underline the role of transportation, especially aviation, in the South African economy, Ndebele notes that the new King Shaka International will create some 270,000 direct and indirect jobs and pump close to ZAR 20 billion (US$2.7bn) annually into the South African economy.
King Shaka International is part of the Dube
Trade Port (DTP) development master plan. The airport was put up ostensibly to provide international flight connections to Durban as well as to help accommodate the progressively expanding domestic passenger business in the Kwa Zulu Natal Province. DTP CEO Rohan Persad adds that apart from offering excellent passenger facilities, the airport boasts a state-of-the-art cargo handling facility. DTP is a Kwa Zulu Natal-funded company that consists of a 2,060 hectare property in eThekwini Municipality north of Durban.
The DTP is an infrastructural project funded by the provincial government of Kwa Zulu Natal’s Department of Economic Development with the aim of unlocking the economic investment potential of the province in sectors that include logistics and manufacturing as well as trade and tourism. According to Persad, the DTP consists of a trade zone that is inter-linked to the new airport’s airfreight terminal complex and the Durban trade port.
Other auxiliary facilities within the DTP include business parks, five and four star hotels with conference facilities and an integrated 20 hectare agricultural zone for growing high-value farm produce for the export market.
The airport, which was completed in January this year, is currently undergoing tests to ensure that the facility works seamlessly before it serves its first commercial flight on May 2, 2010 as this edition goes to press.
Domestic airport upgrades
Apart from enhancing the three principal airports, ACSA has upgraded smaller domestic airports that are also expected to handle domestic flights between world cup host cities. This has led Bloemfontein to get an upgraded terminal building that was completed in December 2009. The passenger terminals at East London and Kimberly airports have also received a facelift completed in March this year while Upington’s terminal building facelift was set for completion in April. According to Hlekane, ACSA has spent a collective ZAR 8.9 million (US$1.2m) to spruce up the terminal buildings at these airports to increase passenger handling capacity at the airports to 350 an hour.
Hlekane says: “This will allow the airports to overcome capacity constraints at the penultimate stages of the FIFA World Cup.”
Increased air traffic
With increased commercial and private jet movement into and within the country, the South African Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ANTS) says that domestic air traffic is expected to increase by between 20 and 30% during the world cup. Boni Dubate, the executive manager at ANTS says domestic carriers are expected to expand their fleet and increase flights per aircraft in June, especially in the evenings just before and after matches as fans and football delegations shuttle to and from their bases to the match venues.
Currently, notes Dubate, ANTS handles about 600,000 air movements a year within the South African airspace. This includes about 60 air movements an hour at OR Tambo International and 30 and 25 at Cape Town and Durban International respectively.
In light of increased air traffic over its skies, South Africa has become one of the first countries in the world to successfully install a multi-lateration system to help control and track air traffic. The system, according to the South African Civil Aviation Authority, costs a fraction of a secondary radar system but is able to provide more accurate information on aircraft movement. The system consists of at least six antennas that are mounted within a 30 mile (50km) radius and are capable of picking up signals from aircraft transponders. On receiving the signals, the antennas triangulate the signals from the aircrafts’ transponders, at a high rate, to give an accurate position and height of the aircraft. They can also determine aircraft speed and direction.
With more than 500,000 football fans expected to land in South Africa for the world cup, ACSA has partnered with SITA, an aviation information technology specialist to install and deploy agent check-in and self-service kiosks at the country’s principal airports. The five-year contract was penned last year at a cost of US$35 million that will see the kiosks installed at OR Tambo International, Cape Town International, and King Shaka International and at the domestic airport in Port Elizabeth.
While addressing South African media at the signing ceremony in September last year, Khodr Akil from SITA announced that South African airports would be well positioned to process 78,000 passengers and 260 international flights a day over the duration of the football world cup. He also noted that SITA’s AirportConnect Open platform would ensure that all check-in stations in all airports across South Africa would be made available to the more than 75 airlines that will handle football delegations and fans. These will maximize resources to ensure that smooth passenger movement is achieved while reducing airport delays.
“Our airports will be the first and last [South African] experience that our international visitors will have during the world cup; so it vital that we are well prepared,” says Maseko.