The stats are quite impressive. O.R. Tambo International Airport processed 18.6 million passengers, 310 thousand tons of cargo and over 212,000 aircraft movements in the last financial year. Yet the average business traveller is not going to get too wrapped up in the figures. What might impress him or her is the fact that Airports Company South Africa is sufficiently highly regarded internationally, to have been enlisted by two major airports to run their operations.
“ACSA is growing,” says Batyashe-Fillis. “We’re already in Mumbai, managing one of the busiest airports in India. We’ve been looking outside of Africa and so far that has gone very well.”
2006 saw a consortium comprising Indian infrastructure group, GVK, ACSA and Bidvest win the right to “modernise, operate, develop and manage” Mumbai International Airport. The latest news, in early February, saw ACSA successful with a similar bid, with Brazilian partners, to overhaul and operate the busiest and most valuable of three Brazilian airports, Guarulhos, in Sao Paulo.
“It really does put ACSA on a solid footing with the BRICS nations,” says Batyashe-Fillis. “We’re not saying we are completely out of the loop with regards to Africa, and we are actually communicating with other spaces on the continent.”
So, we could see ACSA taking on an African airport outside of South Africa, in the future?
“Absolutely,” she says.
There’s no doubt that ORT has come a long way in the years since pre-2010 World Cup. Some of the facilities are outstanding, further enhancing ORT’s standing as the premier airport on the African continent. Again, the stats back that up.
“In 1995 we had something like 60 apron stands, whereas we now have 170. Five of those accommodate the largest passenger aircraft in the world, the A380, and ORT is the only airport on the African continent that has scheduled A380 flights, with parking bays etc. That’s a huge feat and I think we’ve come a long way,” says Batyashe-Fillis.
Returning to my earlier point, the business traveller may be wowed by the presence of the A380, but it’s the airports services that are sure to be of more importance. Again, significant strides have been made, if one looks at the retail, food and beverage and operational improvements. But, you can’t keep all the people happy all of the time.
Personally, I have my own gripe, such as the price of parking.
“The tricky part is you can’t benchmark it with another airport in Africa, because there isn’t another airport of the same size. So, who do you compare it with? Shopping malls? It’s a completely different model. I’m not going to say we’re the cheapest, but we’ve got different models of parking, and you can actually park for a whole day for R10! But, people obviously choose to park as close to the terminals as possible, and that’s premium parking.”
And what of the future of ORT?
“We can’t relax and say we don’t have competitors,” Batyashe-Fillis. “While we’re not building for the next couple of years, we are certainly looking at ways to accommodate our customers and make travelling quicker and easier. Customer care will be our focus.”