Cape Town – The number of passengers passing through Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport had far exceeded forecasts, Christopher Hlekane, the airport’s general manager, told a media conference yesterday

More than R2 billion was being spent on capital projects nearing completion, but continuing growth in passenger numbers combined with higher cost of infrastructure development meant there must be increased operational efficiency, Hlekane said.

Last year the airport had handled 19.3 million passengers – more than 2 million greater than the 17 million forecast by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) of the UK.

TRL had forecast 23 million passengers by 2010. But if the trend exhibited since 2005 continued, the airport’s passenger volumes would be close to 25 million in 2010, Hlekane said.

“More building cannot be the only solution to growing passenger numbers. The current economic conditions of escalating fuel costs and rising interest rates aside, it makes sense to balance infrastructure development with maximising operational efficiencies to sweat our assets.

“We are already collaborating with other airport stakeholders and the airlines in particular to increase capacity by increasing efficiency,” he said.

In addition to encouraging the use of self-check-in machines by both domestic and international travellers, allowing them to avoid queueing, “we have been piloting a queue management system at security check-points that alert supervisors that queues are reaching unacceptable lengths”.

He said that last year the international pier, where wide- bodied aircraft were boarded, was completed at a cost of R535 million. An upgrade of the international departure terminal at a cost of R96 million was almost complete.

The central terminal building, estimated to cost R2 billion, would be handed over to operators in phases from September.