Despite the escalating price of oil pushing up the cost of air travel, Africa’s busiest airport OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, remained confident that it would see positive growth in its traffic volumes.

OR Tambo GM, Chris Hlekane told a media briefing, on Thursday, that traffic volumes on the African continent had decreased by between 5,8% and 6% as a result of rising oil prices.

“We are not excluded from the impact of that [higher oil prices]. It is something we need to take note of,” commented Hlekane.

But while traffic growth volumes had declined, he said that the airport’s forecast growth figures still remained positive.

The Transport Research Laboratory in the UK expected 23-million passengers to pass through the airport during 2010, while the airport said it would have the capacity to handle 25-million passengers a year once its upgrades were completed.

In 2007, 19,3-million passengers used the airport, despite its current capacity only being able to handle 18-million passengers.

Hlekane also said that rising interest rates and capacity issues in the domestic market could impact on its expansion plans.

This meant that it might have to reprioritise some of its projects in terms of their completion dates, but that the infrastructure needed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup would be completed well ahead of time.

However, the R21,9-billion development programme was well under way, despite the high cost of borrowing placing pressure on its balance sheet.

Hlekane said OR Tambo aimed to have all construction in the areas where passengers would travel, completed by the end of next year, ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Further, he said the airport would focus on operational efficiencies in order to increase its capacity.

To that end, Acsa had already established common use self-service (Cuss) check-in counters, for passengers who wanted to bypass check-in queues and check themselves in, moving directly on to the security check points. This was available for domestic and international flights.

OR Tambo would also, in August this year, open an Airport Management Centre where all the relevant airlines by volume, and all the stakeholders by activity would come together to get a common view of all operational aspects of the airport, such as delays or lost baggage.

“It is about helping each other to make decisions timeously and efficiently,” said Hlekane.

In addition, the airport was also in the process of implementing a parking bay detection system where sensors above parking bays reflect as green when empty, and red when occupied. This meant that people could find empty parking bays easier.

SAFETY & SECURITY

Meanwhile, Hlekane said that it had achieved good results in terms of baggage delays and mishandling since bringing in new ground-handling companies.

Acsa had established a baggage protection unit in December last year, and also continued to liaise with ground handlers and airlines on how to reduce incidents of baggage tampering.

OR Tambo said it had spent more than R100-million last year in operational expenditure concerning safety in the ground handling areas. It had also spent about R50-million capital expenditure in terms of infrastructure upgrades, and would spend about R53-million capital expenditure this year.

The airport was also in the process of implementing reverse screening of bags when entering and exiting the terminals, as well as further implementation of its baggage reconciliation system. It would also replace its baggage sortation system.

OR Tambo maintenance and engineering manager Kobus Nel said a new baggage sortation system that would be used in the new central terminal building (CTB) would be able to sort about 9 500 bags an hour, almost double the airport’s current capacity.

Acsa had also invested about R27-million in establishing a control room for the South African Police Services (SAPS), where a select team of police officers will monitor the airport. This was in addition to the airport’s own security control rooms, and the ten SAPS info kiosks, situated throughout the airport.

INFRASTRUCTURE

The Gautrain platform was now complete and ready to be handed over to the Bombela Consortium. The international departures upgrade was about 90% complete.

Further, the CTB’s phased completion was expected to continue until the end of next year, while the international transit lounge would be completed in the middle of next year.