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Apr 16, 2004

Compelling proposal

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Durban’s proposed Dube Tradeport, which is designed as Africa’s first multimodal export platform, is a public–private partnership (PPP) at the tail-end of a treasury approval-one submission. With the feasibility study complete, three issues remain – acquisition of the required land at La Mercy; decommissioning of the existing Durban International Airport (DIA); and government positioning on the role of Airports Company South Africa (Acsa).

Engineering News conducted an exclusive interview in Durban with the project team, made up of CEO Rohan Persad and project executives Owen Nhlonipo Mungwe, Hamish Erskine and Ahmed Bassa, who presented a compelling case in favour of early go-ahead.

The team made clear its preference for the Dube Tradeport to be developed as a pure PPP, which would mean the invitation of private-sector tenders and the selection of the best bid.

The bulk of the work towards this end is already complete; the request-for-proposals procedure is expected to begin by September; and 2009 is envisaged as the year operations will begin.

Capital of R1,6-billion is required for the King Shaka passenger terminal and the Dube Tradeport, which has a trade zone, airfreight terminal, perishables centre and cyberport.

Currently, products that would be flown out from the proposed Dube Tradeport are trucked from the KZN catchment area to Johannesburg for export in the bellies of passenger aircraft. Previously, wide-bodied 747s flew into KZN, undertook a technical stop at Johannesburg International Airport (JIA) to pick up more freight, passengers and fuel before flying on to key world markets. At that stage, KZN producers were virtually guaranteed a 747 uplift, resulting in a more-consistent supply chain at more favourable airfreight rates. But with narrow-bodied aircraft now flying the domestic route, there is no KZN pick up.

Freight that passes through DIA’s customs and excise counters bypasses the planes and is actually trucked to Johannesburg, with no guarantee of a JIA fly-out to world markets.

Because of the uncertainty, critical masses in the perishable-producer areas of KZN have ceased to grow, despite being important job creators.

Though KZN is a particularly good region for perishables, many are eking out an existence.

The project team argue that the Dube Tradeport could change that by opening up the supply chain and growing the opportunity. Combined with that, the proposed tradeport is targeting the export of automotive components, electronics – KZN’s decoder manufacturer UEC and others invariably fly out their electronic products – clothing and textiles and a grouping of half a dozen other sectors. The team also finds a consistency of products and of sectors having no other mode of transport except air and these are generally the same sectors that move by airfreight the world over.

Particularly UK, European and Middle Eastern markets would be key initial target markets, with the challenge of the project team being creation of point-to-point efficiency, elimination of trucking, guarantee of fly-out provision, improvement of handling, and lowering of cost, to give the KZN supply chain consistency and expansion opportunities.

Over and above this, the project team is proposing the establishment of the cyberport as a competitive-edge sharpener.

This would have the benefit of both cable and satellite broadband and, by the time it came about, customs and excise would itself have already become paperless, with a complete order-fulfilment cycle all the way from procurement to the final customer, and full accommodation of the procurement needs of exporters. Offering the cyberport in addition to the sea-air logistics platform is expected to attract secondary activities, including remote data-processing, data warehousing and call-centre ventures, all significant job creators and all candidates for migration to developing countries in pursuit of lower costs. Later, once a critical mass is attained, the project team envisages a progression into research and development, technology park and film industry activities, where large volumes of digital data need to be transmitted for remote printing.

While such companies would not locate to the proposed tradeport’s trade zone to benefit from the integrated sea-air logistics that it would offer, they would be there to benefit from the rich digital environment.

The tradeport is also designed to be an air services hub into sub-Saharan Africa, with semi-finished high-value goods arriving in bulk by sea and being finished in KZN before flying out to Africa.

When one talks about perishables, one talks about a 24-hour maximum cycle, and the project team’s conclusion is that an efficient air platform would improve reliability and permit product leaving KZN farm gates at four in the morning to arrive on UK supermarket shelves the next morning. The challenge to the KZN catchment area would be to harvest, size, weigh, package, freeze, label and transport to airport in four hours.

The project team proposes that a 3,7 km runway be built, which will offer the same capability as JIA’s 4,6 km counterpart, thanks to being at sea level, which contributes to superior aircraft engine performance The hotter and the higher the location, the lower the aircraft’s engine performance owing to air density and thrust capability.

Against that background, one of JIA’s biggest current problems is aircraft having to leave for Far East markets between midday and two o’ clock in order to arrive between six and eight the next morning.

Because of JIA being in a hot-and-high location, aircraft have to sacrifice payload and, even if JIA’s runway were extended to 6 km, the density and temperature of the air at 1 800 m would affect engine performance and thus constrain the mass of cargo that could be flown. The Dube Tradeport, by contrast, would provide sea-level capability for 365 days a year, which means that the only payload restriction is aircraft capability and range.

Moreover, aircraft would not be restricted to flying after sunset and would be able to benefit from 13c-to-21c-a-litre cheaper aviation fuel. The project team cites reliability, dependability and efficiency as the Dube Tradeport’s selling propositions, exposing JIA’s other challenges as having to deal with frequent aircraft delays on arrival and departure due to airspace congestion as a result of the presence of many commercial airports like Rand, Grand Central and Lanseria within a confined airspace.

This results in aircraft on approach to the airports in the vicinity having to be separated in terms of speed, altitude and distance.

Moreover, JIA’s planes land in Boksburg, but park in Kempton Park, because of the terminal precincts being located on the west.

The location of the take-off runway on the west and the landing runway on the east makes it difficult to speed up arrivals and departures.

What the tradeport can offer for at least the first 20 years is an efficient access and exit of airspace and aerodrome, helped by an unrestricted airspace, especially over the ocean, and the introduction of rapid-exit taxiways, which will be a first for commercial airports in South Africa.

This will mean that landing aircraft will not have to slow down to make 90 degree turns, as they do at JIA, but will speedily roll into taxiways that are merged off the runway. This has the potential to increase peak runway usage by a third through aircraft not having to slow down to a virtual standstill. The modular design of the proposed 4 000 m2 cargo facility facilitates ease of expansion.

While opening cargo capacity will be between 35 000 t and 40 000 t, the project team believes that 464 000 t of cargo a year is an addressable market by 2019.

New ways of operating in keeping with just-in-time mean that comparatively small facilities can cope with large cargo tonnages. With logistics lines in place and offloading taking 40 minutes rather than half a day, as is currently the case, aircraft will need to stay on the ground for far shorter periods.

Strengthening the need for greater efficiency still further is a study by CSX World Terminals, which found empty containers being railed and trucked between Durban and Johannesburg, a worrying logistics cost that is having to be borne by producers.

Dube provides a partial solution for gross inefficiencies in the Durban-to-Johannesburg end of the logistics chain, where goods are taking 8,5 days to reach Johannesburg’s City Deep dry port by rail and will put an end to the excessive use of trucks, which are rutting roads and diminishing road safety.

As the tradeport also has the potential to unlock economic growth in KZN, many are holding thumbs that the PPP will be allowed to fly.
Edited by: Martin Creamer
Creamer Media Editor

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