THE position of OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) as South Africa’s primary hub remains stable, thanks to foreign and domestic airlines having filled the gap left as its struggling hub anchor, SAA, cut seat capacity (gradually over the past decade). Airports Company South Africa group manager: traffic development, Matome Ramokgobedi, says seat capacity at ORTIA has grown 4% year-on-year since 2018 as foreign operators added capacity, following flat cumulative growth of 1% over the last three years. He says SAA has cut 2,6 million seats across its network, but
850 000 seats were moved to Mango and 2,8 million seats were added by FlySafair when SAA returned aircraft leased from Safair.

ORTIA remains ACSA’s primary hub because it is high-yield year-round, and handles 60% of all South African scheduled air traffic (80% of which is domestic traffic on the ‘Golden Triangle’ between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban). However, to date, its position has depended on the support of SAA. “We remain stable, but as a hub, we need a strong anchor carrier,” Matome says.

Hub strategy review

Matome is responding to a call by the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa) for ACSA to review its Johannesburg hub strategy with greater input from airlines, and travel and tourism stakeholders. BARSA’s Ndiphiwe Ntuli says: “It is important for ORTIA to retain its strong position as a dominant hub in sub- Saharan Africa. South Africa cannot afford to lose key global players in this market, especially to other regional African hubs over which we have a competitive advantage. It is possible that, as airlines in Europe, the US and elsewhere consolidate, they will consider new destinations or hubs, resulting in us losing capacity, as we have seen with a few operators pulling out of Johannesburg and preferring to fly to Kenya or Angola.” He adds: “South Africa has to develop a deliberate strategy to build ORTIA as a hub, facilitating the movement of people and goods; improving the networks and connectivity into the region – Southern, East and Central Africa – and by bringing in new airlines, especially from South-east Asia and other long-haul markets.”

Growth plans

ACSA is working on a new air link to Lisbon following Iberia Airlines’ decision to pull out of the Johannesburg route on August 31. Matome says other air routes being sought include Scandinavia (Copenhagen or Helsinki); Buenos Aires, to connect to other destinations in South America and for ORTIA to become the anchor in a ‘key south corridor’ between South America and Asia Pacific; North America (non- stop Miami or Philadelphia, or Chicago via West-Africa); and Equatorial Africa.

TNW sums up some of the major capacity additions to have been announced this year:

  • Singapore Airlines upped its Johannesburg frequencies from seven to 10 a week on March 31;
  • On April 1, Alitalia increased its Rome-Johannesburg service to five weekly;
  • LATAM flies daily between São Paulo and Johannesburg since April 5;
  • Ethiopian Airlines partnered with ASKY on June 15 and commenced daily flights from Johannesburg to Lagos (via Douala and Libreville);
  • Air Madagascar resumed twice-weekly flights between Antananarivo and Johannesburg on June 17;
  • Air Tanzania restarted four weekly services between Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg on June 28;
  • SAA moves three of its Hong Kong flights to Guangzhou on September 18 creating connecting opportunities to Guangzhou’s top routes in South-east Asia (Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Vietnam and Manila);
  • Qatar is phasing in 21 weekly Johannesburg frequencies by the end of October.

Meanwhile, British Airways reduced its Johannesburg frequencies from 18 to 14 a week. However, BARSA says the plan to bring more capacity to ORTIA has to be more focused, accompanied by requisite operational efficiencies, services and infrastructure. “It is for this reason that we say ACSA needs to engage with all stakeholders on this and develop a strategy that all stakeholders can buy into,” Ndiphiwe says.