/ 2 September 2008

OR Tambo’s new arrivals hall ready for the rush

A cleaner is sweeping dust from the brand-new, brown and white stone floor. A construction worker is doing a check of the staircases while project managers, wearing yellow reflective vests and pink hard hats, inspect the building one last time.

At the shiny new international arrivals hall at OR Tambo International Airport, empty desks are waiting to receive the first passengers. From early on Wednesday morning, this space belongs to the millions of airline passengers arriving in South Africa’s biggest city from all over the world.

Shaped like a rugby ball lying on its side, the 18 000-square-metre, three-level Central Terminal Building at OR Tambo International Airport is spacious with bright white walls.

According to the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), international passengers will be “welcomed in style” — a far cry from the dusty, crowded space that has served as the temporary international arrivals hall for the past three years, where passengers needed to find their way through small passages, confused by badly worded directions and notices.

According to Kesavan Naicker, manager of all construction projects at the airport, an important requirement of the new building was to create more space and make it easier for passengers to find their way by “reducing the number of decision points”.

After passing through passport control, passengers face a choice between two colours: follow the passage with red walls if they have goods to declare, or go the green route otherwise.

Then comes the entrance to the spacious new arrivals hall, which is two-and-a-half times larger than its predecessor. Waiting behind a sleek-looking glass wall will be those who have come to welcome their friends or relatives.

From the new space, newly arrived passengers can walk directly to the domestic terminal, without leaving the building, or pass through an underground tunnel to the parking lot.

“Passengers no longer need to go outside to walk to another terminal,” says Naicker.

The design of the Central Terminal Building, which cost R2,3-billion, places departures predominantly on the first floor, with arrivals at ground level.

From December this year, phone shops, foreign exchange services, a post office and various eateries will already be serving customers on the third level. By April next year, the international departures hall on the second floor will open, with 75 new check-in counters.

Redesigned yellow, blue and green direction and information signs — to replace the old black-and-white ones — mean international passengers won’t easily get lost.

The new arrivals hall is part of the airport’s preparations for the Soccer World Cup in 2010. OR Tambo caters for about 80 000 passengers daily.

Last year the airport served about 19-million passengers and, according to Acsa, it will be able to accommodate 24-million passengers come 2010. It expects 350 000 extra passengers during the six weeks of the tournament.

The airport’s services will be boosted by the installation of extra baggage carousels: two extra at domestic arrivals, in addition to the six existing ones, and 10 instead of the current seven at international arrivals. Four of these are 90m baggage carousels designed for bigger aircraft like the Airbus A380.

And for those who couldn’t face the confined space of an aircraft toilet, these amenities have received special attention. Says Naicker: “People complained they couldn’t find the toilets. In the new building every zone has its own toilet facilities.”

Even modern dads have not been forgotten, he adds. The new toilet facilities include separate nappy-changing rooms, “so fathers can also change the nappies of their child and mothers can wait with the luggage”.