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ACSA’s recovery to pre-pandemic levels on track

An image of the inside of OR Tambo International Airport

OR Tambo International, in Gauteng, accounted for the majority of traffic across the ACSA network

Photo by Creamer Media

2nd February 2024

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online

     

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As of December 2023, the airline industry had largely recovered its traffic to 2019 levels, which is the benchmark for pre-Covid-19, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) CEO Mpumi Mpofu informed in an ACSA post peak season travel update on February 1.

She expanded that domestic traffic set new highs last year, with most markets surpassing the pre-pandemic levels by 2023. While international traffic remained lower than 2019 levels, it maintained stable yet robust growth.

Mpofu said ACSA’s network recovery rate as of December 2023 stood at 83% of the 2019 traffic across all segments.

However, the restoration of networks remained uneven, especially in terms of connectivity and passenger demand to and from the Asia Pacific region, which had not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Mpofu pointed out that urban and safari tourism was on the rise and that it was creating growth for Africa and South Africa, with direct flights to places such as the Kruger National Park from international locations bolstering this.

She highlighted that, in the post-pandemic era, airlines were choosing to focus on direct travel such as this, with international tourists seeking “experience” trips.

Tourism also played a considerable role in the recovery, Mpofu pointed out, as business travel was impacted on by technology.

“We are very pleased with ACSA’s recovery during the current financial year and during the peak period last year, with passenger volumes and aircraft movements reflecting a solid increase that has, in some cases, even exceeded our projections.

“Looking back on the peak period, we can proudly celebrate several highlights that show that the strategic, financial and operational responses we put into place at the start of the pandemic continue to provide a sound and reliable framework within which to sustain our business and to begin looking towards a post-Covid-19 future,” she said.

Mpofu pointed out that, by year-end, ACSA had managed to establish a solid recovery position, with the total air passenger traffic through its network having increased considerably over the previous period, as well as recording a solid recovery to near pre-Covid-19 passenger throughput.

Using the financial year 2019/20 as a base for recovery (with this being pre-pandemic), passenger numbers across the entire ACSA network of airports achieved recovery of 87% as at end December 2023, with 17% year-on-year growth.

In December 2023, the organisation recorded 3.55-million passengers travelling through its airports, which exceeded its forecast of 3.43-million passengers.

Of these, regional passenger volumes totalled 73 492, while domestic passenger volumes constituted 2.4-million.

International passenger volumes increased to 1.02-million, exceeding the one-million mark for the first time since the pandemic.

Total airline movements showed a 93% recovery and a 10% year-on-year growth for December 2023 and January this year.

Total international passenger traffic was 30% of the total market. The total number of passengers was 1.09-million with total international air traffic movements being 9 610.

OR Tambo International Airport (Ortia), in Gauteng, accounted for the majority of traffic across the ACSA network, as showcased in a 2019 to 2024 comparative graph.

Of a total 1.25-million travellers over the period, Ortia processed 922 595 in 2019/20, 652 710 in 2022/23 and 745 511 in 2023/24, or 81% of all total traffic across the ACSA network.

Total recovery for Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) is 113% and for King Shaka International Airport (KSIA), in KwaZulu-Natal, 62%.

Domestic performance indicates the greatest recovery at smaller ACSA airports with the highest recovery in Kimberley, in the Northern Cape, at 125% and Bram Fischer, in the Free State, at 100%, with Ortia at 91%.

In terms of domestic movement, the recovery at Upington was at 125%; Kimberley at 109%; CTIA at 104% and Ortia at 102%.

Mpofu pointed out that tourism was a key driver in this.

ACSA’s busiest day was recorded on December 22, 2023, with 129 000 passengers recorded across the network, compared with the December daily average of 115 000.

Ortia and CTIA exceeded the runway capacity utilisation on the busiest day, with this marker used as a “stress test” to discern if ACSA had the requisite capacity for these busy days.

Mpofu explained that the two airports exceeding this showcases a “bumper season”; however, ACSA would continue to monitor this, as frequent occurrences meant that capacity expansion programmes needed to be undertaken to ensure passengers were not delayed in the future.

In total, ACSA reported 27.2-million passengers travelling through its airports in the financial year-to-date, compared with 32.5-million for the same period in the 2019/20 financial year and 23.1-million for the 2022/23 financial year.

Ortia also continues to be ACSA’s major cargo hub, and Mpofu averred that this should be further bolstered by opportunities occasioned by the newly launched African Continental Free Trade Area.

Cargo saw a 115% recovery and 14% year-on-year growth, with Mpofu highlighting that this area had exceeded 2019 levels. The increase in capacity was owed to belly cargo on wide-body aircrafts, she explained.

In terms of aircraft movements, ACSA also reported that its network is recovering at 88%, when using the financial year 2019/20 as a base for recovery, with 9% growth when compared year-on-year.

A total of 345 277 aircraft movements were recorded year-to-date during the current financial year, compared with 390 306 during the 2019/20 financial year.

For the month of December, ACSA recorded a 93% recovery, with a total of 38 834 aircraft movements, and a 94% recovery in January this year, with a total of 24 396 aircraft movements.

This is in comparison to the 41 606 and 26 050 aircraft movements in December and January of 2019/20, respectively.

ACSA experienced two serious incidents over the festive season period.

The first was a technical issue where one of the five baggage sortation systems in the domestic terminal at OR Tambo broke down owing to an incident of an out-of-gauge bag, or overly large bag that is too large to fit in the container, being checked in, which affected an electromechanical sensor.

Of the 77 569 bags processed at the airport on December 22 and 23, 2023, 4 500 bags were short-shipped.

This resulted in delayed flights as most domestic airlines delayed flights and waited for travellers’ bags to be loaded.

ACSA mobilised its stakeholders to resolve this, and the company is undertaking measures to prevent future occurrences, including re-training staff and making passengers aware of baggage checked guidelines.

CTIA experienced two minor baggage sortation system incidents in the first week of January this year.

One was caused by a protruding object on a traveller’s bag which damaged a belt. The second incident was owing to a premature belt failure.

These resulted in 67 and 41 bags respectively being short-shipped. However, these incidents were resolved on the day and most of the bags were reconciled with their owners on later flights on the same day, ACSA pointed out.

The company took further remedial action to improve enforcement of compliant bags at check-in and is now completing baggage sortation system projects for CTIA, KSIA and Ortia which started last year and are expected to improve system reliability and redundancy.

In terms of ACSA’s luggage scanning system, X-ray machine availability is at 98%. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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