Airports Company SA (Acsa) will open the first phase of its R2,3bn central terminal building at OR Tambo International Airport this morning, taking the airport one step closer to a construction-free airport by mid-2010.

All international passengers arriving in Johannesburg will now pass through the sleek, multi-story atrium of the new building — a far cry from the current overcrowded and dark arrivals hall, which will now be closed for renovation. The new public concourse is two and a half times bigger than the airport’s present international arrivals hall.

When complete in April next year, the central terminal building will connect the domestic and international terminals. The remainder of the building will be opened in two phases, with the new international departures hall opening in December and the extended retail centre in April next year. Once complete, the departures hall will boast 75 new check-in counters, effectively linking OR Tambo’s international and domestic check-in facilities.

In December next year, Acsa will also have completed installation of the new baggage management system at international arrivals. Once the system is complete, a total of 10 new baggage reclaim carousels will be in operation, four of which are 90m baggage carousels specifically designed for massive new-generation aircraft such as the Airbus A380.

Kesavan Naicker, manager of projects at OR Tambo, said construction at the airport was about 70% complete and there was no doubt that the airport would be ready for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Aside from the central terminal building, several other projects at the airport have been completed or are close to completion. The final phase of the parking area will be completed by December, bringing total parking at the airport to about 14500 bays. Acsa also recently handed over the OR Tambo Gautrain station to the Bombela consortium for completion.

The new terminal building is ultimately likely to ease the passage of passengers through SA’s busiest airport. The building provides direct access to the multi-storey parking, and Acsa has used coloured-coded signboards to ease navigation around the airport.

The handicapped have not been forgotten, with sloping floors doing away with the need for stairs. The elevators also use voice-recognition technology, making moving around the airport easier for those with sight impairments.

Naicker said that once the current cycle of construction at the airport was completed there would be enough capacity to meet growth in passenger numbers until 2015, bringing an end to construction at least for a few years. Construction work at the airport has been going on for the past 10 years.