South Africa’s aviation industry appears to be on the up. As the African Continent becomes immersed in infrastructure development, new opportunities are opening up for airlines and airports. Circumstances could prove very timely indeed for South Africa’s first international airport: Rand Airport.
Located in Germiston, just a short ride from Johannesburg, the airport has a rich history but has had to adapt to the changing political landscape, which limited its potential for several years, but which may now be about to return the site to former status.
When political change came to South Africa in 1994, the government split the country into nine provinces and made the decision that each province would have only one international airport. That signalled a change of direction for Rand Airport, as the nearby Oliver Tambo Airport gained international status.
For the past ten years Rand Airport has operated under the watchful eyes of Anton Kruger, Managing Director, who has helped to develop innovative sources of revenue stream that have lead to further growth:
“We operate a user-friendly domestic airport and have two runways of 1.8 kilometres and 1.5 kilometres in length. We have between 700 and 800 passengers per month but our focus is not really on the traditional passenger business, we are more focussed on specialist services,” he describes.
“Rand Airport is a privately-owned venture and our primary revenue streams come from handling cargo, maintenance and training. In October 2000 the airport was privatised, the operators formed a consortium and held a 50 per cent stake, with the balance held by an empowerment group called Mayondi Investments, with 30 per cent and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council holding 20 per cent share.”
At present the airport occupies in the region of 300 hectares, with Kruger suggesting that as much as 80 hectares of land could be further developed, including scope for widening and lengthening the runways, which would mean that Rand could accommodate the larger international aircraft. However that need is dependent on the airport being granted an international airport licence, which would have a dramatic transformation of the current site:
“Rand Airport opened in 1932 and was the first international airport in the country and back then it was state-owned,” Kruger says. “At that stage passengers were the main focus of the business but the space was limited and we weren’t able to carry the larger scheduled airlines like the 747s.
“We were sold to Johannesburg Council and the airport became more of a chartered flight and cargo facility, with links into the African continent. However, when the government came to power in 1994, their rules on the number of international airports per province saw us lose our international status, although Gauteng has two in OR Tambo and Lanseria.
“The changes slowed down our traffic volumes to the airport and we had to re-focus the business,” he continues.
At that stage Rand Airport was already attracting lots of maintenance companies who would rent out hangars and carry out essential repair work onsite. This work became harder to attract following the 1994 ruling, as many of the African maintenance companies found that they had to fly to another destination, clear customs and then fly internally to reach Rand Airport.
Today the airport is home to five maintenance companies: Academy Aircraft Maintenance, Aircraft Unlimited, Euro Blitz, Fields Airmotive and National Airways Corporation – and a host of related businesses supply aircraft parts, aircraft paint spray and upholstery services, aircraft instruments, electroplating and leasing and even one company which works on vintage aircraft.
“We have between 220 and 230 flights per day and in addition to the maintenance businesses – many of which have their own private hangars, while others rent from us (which gives us a unique situation); there are a number of pilot training operations based at Rand too,” Kruger explains. “The good weather here for most of the year, means that trainee pilots are able to get plenty of flying hours, with the wind being an occasional problem. At one stage we had around 20 flying schools located here but around four years ago the economy started to bite and the number is currently 10,” he adds.
“Training accounts for around 40 per cent of the airport movement and each flying school has its own offices and hangar and we give them a block land and approach fee discount whereby they only pay for the first 25 flights per aircraft and get the rest for free. Our big advantage is that we have two cross runways, depending on the winds.”
Chartered flights account for a further 30 per cent of the airport movement, with cargo reduced to 10 per cent, although Kruger is hopeful that Rand Airport’s international status will be rubber stamped soon, in which case that figure could rise.
There is an intriguing element to Rand Airport which we have not yet mentioned – and it accounts for the remaining 30 per cent of airport movement, as Kruger explains:
“We are also the home to the Aero Club of South Africa which is an organisation that supports sports aviation across the country. They control all of the air shows in South Africa and they practice aerobatics here at Rand where they also carry out maintenance and repair work.”
Of course such activities require not only stringent air traffic control planning but safety measures too. In the last 18 months the business has invested in the region of R2 million on a new fire station and fire engines which were acquired from Oliver Tambo Airport, where they had been replaced. The project was a necessity for Rand to be classified as a Category 6 airport.
The site also recently carried out some major maintenance on the terminal building, which, because of its age, is considered as a historical monument. The next stage of development is the introduction of a new air traffic control system over the next couple of months, which is set to go live in early April.
Whilst the 1994 ruling may have restricted Rand Airport’s opportunities, Kruger says that the organisation has still enjoyed growth;
“The last financial year (which ends next month) will have seen our revenues rise to R50 million, which is an increase of around 10 per cent on the previous year. This has been achieved through a combination of fuel sales and movement to the airport. We expect to see further growth in the region of 7 per cent next year due to an increase in rental income and also as more of the smaller businesses move from Lanseria Airport, which is focussing more on scheduled airlines now.”
Right now Rand Airport is home to 30 employees and over 50 companies. The future could see those figures swell significantly, pending the outcome of the international airport licence application:
“We applied for the licence around 18 months ago and we are waiting on the government’s decision now. We are very hopeful that this will go ahead but the wheels can move a little slowly.
“If we are successful, we will see a lot of companies prepared to locate to Rand Airport and there will be significantly more cargo and maintenance activity on-site. The next twelve months will be crucial to the future of the airport; approval will require us to upgrade the terminal, build additional hangars and possibly even expand the runways,” he states.
If Kruger’s hopes are realised, Rand Airport will be back on the flight path it first took 80 years ago.