As the African continent continues to develop both socially and economically, so does the clamour for new air passengers. Very much in the domestic scrum for customers, privately-owned Lanseria International Airport is more than holding its own, enjoying rapid expansion.
The story of Lanseria is one of the nation’s successes. Having begun life back in the Seventies, the business has rapidly grown since becoming privatised in 1991. Some twenty odd years earlier, in 1972, two Pretoria pilots, Fanie Haacke and Abe Sher, identified the site as a prime location for an airport.
The Krugersdorp and Roodepoort Municipalities as well as the Transvaal Peri-Urban Board purchased the land and contracted it to the newly formed Lanseria Management Company on a 99-year lease and Lanseria International Airport (LIA) was officially opened to air traffic by, the then minister of transport, Hannes Rall, on 16 August 1974. On that day, a Learjet ZS-MTD became the first jet to land at Lanseria International Airport.
When former President, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison in May 1990, his first footsteps on Gauteng soil took place at Lanseria. Later that year, the owners of the airport took the decision to sell and the new owners became a group of private investors.
Steady investment and strategic business and marketing decisions helped to grow Lanseria and by 1999, the old infrastructure was beginning to feel the strain of added numbers, resulting in a major expansion programme, which kicked off in 2002 with the construction of a new – and much larger terminal building. This was followed with an upgrade of the runways and taxiways.
South African airports had their international status reviewed in February 2001, as part of the Government’s revised infrastructure requirements for international aviation. Nine ACSA operated airports (Airports Company of SA) and the privately-owned Lanseria were the only airfields to retain their international status.
Further pressures from increased passenger numbers resulted in further expansion of the terminal building three years ago, when the Domestic Departure Lounge area was revamped and enlarged to cope with the demand for flights from Durban and Cape Town. At the same time, the airport increased its retail portfolio with the introduction of new shops and restaurants and further parking facilities.
The decision to privatise the airport in 1991 occurred around the same time that Gavin Sayce, a property developer, had his first dealings with the airport, before becoming Airport Manager thirteen years ago and ultimately CEO. Sayce has overseen many of the changes that have taken place at Lanseria over the ensuing years:
“Lanseria International Airport (LIA) is located about 20 kilometres north-west of Sandton and was originally municipally-owned. Having been privatised, we have progressed to become one of the largest general aviation airports in the whole of Africa,” he describes.
“Things have changed drastically since then and the owners focussed on making us a premier corporate aviation airport.”
Whilst the airport continued to expand over time, Sayce suggests that 2006 was maybe a seminal moment, as LIA commenced scheduled operations which have seen the volume of passengers soar from 100,000 per year to close to 2 million. The move came just in time for the 2010 Fifa World Cup (TM), which, at its peak, saw over 250 aircraft at LIA.
“Today apart from the many aircraft and maintenance operations based at the airport, we have two low cost airlines operating from the airport in Mango and kulula.com. “We are a full international airport but the scheduled market is primarily domestic currently, although we will be starting regional flights to Botswana soon and we are actively looking to grow this market,” he explains.
Sayce hints that further growth of these opportunities is likely over the next twelve months, with a takeover consortium at LIA likely to be in place within the end of the first quarter of the year. This buy-out will include a Black Economic Empowerment group.
At the moment, alongside his everyday routine, Sayce finds his time occupied with another major expansion project:
“We sweat our assets quite hard and we always make sure that the demand is there for added capacity, before we commit to projects,” he states. “We are in the midst of a R20 million project to extend the main terminal building, which will double the concourse space and improve the vertical movement of passengers, which at peak times (like Christmas and Easter) can be quite congested.
“As part of this project we will also be adding new food and retail opportunities and the level of interest in these has been enormous – it will be a challenge to choose the right businesses.
“The terminal work should be completed by June. We are also busy with the planning for a new multi-storey parkade, which should commence shortly.”
Projects like these are of course aimed at the passenger but Sayce is also aware of the potential value of another ongoing initiative: the upgrading of the runway. The new runway will be 45 metres wide and 3 kilometres; sufficient to accommodate A320s, and Boeing 738s up to the 767 model.
“We have already started this particular project and have developed a full safety and business sustainability case. This was developed in conjunction with all roles players including the SACAA, and ATNS, this enables work to carry on twenty four hours a day. This is a R160 million project. The new runway is planned to be commissioned by the end of September 2013, with the removal of the existing runway completed by mid-December 2013.”
Sayce says that the existing runway had effectively reached the end of its life and that this presented a timely opening to bolster LIA’s potential:
“Looking at future opportunities, we took the decision to increase the width of the runway to 45 metres, which will enable us to take larger aircraft.
“In the future this may also enable us to handle more cargo and whilst our storage and cargo handling facilities are currently limited (due to the ad-hoc nature of demand), as the scheduled market increases, so will demand for these services and we will then look at further investment.”
LIA currently employs approximately 250 staff, who receive extensive in-house training. As a private airport, there are a number of ways that LIA is able to make money and having experienced, skilled staff is of course a key factor.
The airport complies with all the stringent standards set by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The airport also regularly exceeds the requirements set by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).
Among the many skilled services LIA provides are all passenger and ramp handling procedures, meaning that the airlines “only need to bring their aircraft, we do the rest for them” according to Sayce.
“Another key offering is our customer service and we strive to ensure that the whole experience ensures that the customer is king,” he adds.
That experience has been enhanced with the recent implementation of a R15 million investment in a new electronic check-in system, which has successfully rolled-out without mishap and gears travellers up for a hassle-free trip.
With competition and demand continuing to grow across Africa, Lanseria is preparing for the launch of its regular service to Botswana, which represents the first step in a new journey for Lanseria International Airport. If it is anything like the past forty years, it promises to be an exciting ride.