Out of Africa: An in-depth report of ground handling in South Africa

Ground handling is sometimes seen as the “ugly step-child” of the aviation industry.

Ground handling is sometimes seen as the “ugly step-child” of the aviation industry. In the days where most handling companies belonged to an airline, GSE was not the highest of priorities. “Things with wings” enjoyed the main focus of attention and naturally when budget cuts were called for, GSE was in front of the firing line.

Africa, in general, is considered a developing continent when compared to Europe and North America. While this is true of some African countries, there are others which do provide world-class service.

To put things in perspective, OR Tambo International Airport, in Johannesburg South Africa (formerly Johannesburg International Airport) is considered by some to be the largest and busiest airport in South Africa. According to The Airports Company of South Africa, the average number of aircraft movements per day in the 2005-2006 fiscal year was 547, compared to approximately 2,680 movements per day through Hartsfield Atlanta Airport.

Growth in the aviation industry in Africa is on average, forecast at 4.7 percent per annum for the next 20 years. The study also found that
Africa only accounts for 3 percent of world traffic.

According to a Boeing Co. study, RPK’s in Africa will grow by 5.3 percent per annum over the next 20 years. In South Africa the figure is higher, from 20 million passengers in 2001 to an anticipated 40 million in 2010. Expansions currently planned or in progress include:

  • The Airports Company has budgeted $5.2 billion ZAR over the next five years for improvements, expansions and a new airport in Durban, in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, increased tourism and A380 aircraft operations.
  • Cape Town will increase it’s current passenger capacity from 6.5 million passengers per year to 12 million by 2009.
  • The new airport in Durban will increase passenger capacity from the current 4 million to 7.5 million by 2010.
  • On completion of improvements to several airports, South African airports will be comparable to any world-class airport.
  • Security is also a priority, with more than $195 million ZAR spent on security matters over the past five years and a further $40 million ZAR earmarked for the current financial year.

The Airports Company has started a five-year investment program in all of South Africa’s major airports. A nearly $32 million Euro loan has been granted to Namibia to upgrade and improve facilities. $41 million USD have been designated for improvements to four of Kenya’s airports. $31 million USD have been set aside for rehabilitation and improvements to Dar es Salaam Airport in Tanzania. Another $500 Million USD are also earmarked for improvements to 16 airports in Angola and Senegal plans to spend $260 million Euros to build a new airport at Dakar-Yoff.

Although not all of Africa’s problems are unique, they nonetheless negatively impact the ground handling industry there. These problems include:
• Operating environment
• Problems with GSE
• Customer support
• Availability of parts
• Inadequate facilities

Compared to European and North American countries, Africa has a unique climate, with hot ambient temperatures, often-dusty conditions and no traditional winters.

A number of African countries are also landlocked which creates a logistical nightmare when shipping GSE to the airports. The surface transport infrastructures are also inadequate in some countries, making it difficult to transport GSE from the nearest seaport to the final destinations.

Another problem in some countries is that of political instability. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, being one such country. Other countries South Africa are making concerted efforts to broker peaceful solutions to their problems but the situation often becomes volatile, making it difficult for the country to develop and move forward. Naturally very few companies want to invest in a country under such conditions.

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