Transforming Ekurhuleni

OR Tambo International Airport is set to expand

OR Tambo International Airport is set to expand

Since the 17th century, the development of transportation infrastructure has shaped business location choices in pursuit of commercial imperatives. In the 21st century, airports have become assets — centres of economic activity in terms of trade, investment and tourism. 

Unveiling the master plan for the Ekurhuleni aerotropolis — and acting upon it — means social, spatial and economic transformation for this Gauteng region.

Over November 17 and 18 2015 local and international dignitaries, captains of industry and interested parties convened at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, where the master plan for the Ekurhuleni aerotropolis was officially launched. A significant event, with hundreds of delegates, this launch was the culmination of years of planning one of the flagship projects of the City of Ekurhuleni, which is poised to become the first aerotropolis in Africa.

Timed around the official visit to South Africa of the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mark Rutter, and an 80-member business delegation from his country, which also attended the conference to enable networking with local businesses.

The aerotropolis plan required the coordination and streamlining of spatial planning and land use management instruments and alignment with all other related master plans, including those of Sanral, Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN) and CIPR. It also required the mobilisation and coordination of air and bulk cargo movements, development of the aerotropolis’ value proposition and mobilising stakeholders.

This ambitious project is expected to be implemented over a period of up to 30 years and backing and support from national and provincial government is firm and committed. Already the project has strategic partnerships in place with ACSA, Denel, Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU) and the CSIR and companies already committed and invested in the project include DHL Supply Chain, GAAP Architects and Urban Designers (the Riverfields development) and Aurecon.

Opening the conference, programme director, Victor Kgomoeswana said: “This is not another talk shop. While it helps talking about something, this conference gives stakeholders the sense of the project, the strategic direction and roles.

“This aerotropolis is a massive undertaking in city infrastructure and success depends upon investors. It is not only up to the city to implement. The airport exists. Now there needs to be a single resolution on what contribution everyone is going to make and practice this straight from the conference.”

Job creation

“We have to acknowledge the role of transport in general as a contributor to development. The growth of aviation is a catalyst for change,” said Transport Director General, Pulu Selepe, who delivered an address on behalf of Transport Minister, Dipuo Peters.

Selepe stressed the importance of spreading the word about the aerotropolis, promoting tourism and trade saying the strategic objective is to included increasing air transport levels, promoting growth and job creation with the aerotropolis, which is the enabling framework and will serve to make South Africa truly a global destination.

“There is emphasis on the needs of intra-Africa transport,” continued Selepe. “We are acutely aware of the dynamics within the aviation sector and we have to always ensure that policies and strategies keep up with these dynamics. These can drive achievements with the broader aviation sector and industry at large.

“We need to explore opportunities along with governments across Africa. We must prepare for growth  — not today or tomorrow, but over the next 50 years and more, taking into account the needs of industry and the impact on the economy.

“We boast a state-of-the-art airport — the best on our continent. In 2014, the airport handled almost 18 million people and has the capacity for 35 million. As our country experiences growth, there will be more reason to travel. The aviation sector is worth R51-billion to South Africa which translates into 2.1% of GDP. It now about how we utilise our airport infrastructure as we move forward.”

Translate strategy to action

OR Tambo is the primary airport for domestic and international travel to and from South Africa and is Africa’s busiest airport and one of the few airports in the world that has non-stop flights to all six inhabited continents. It is the largest airport in Africa and the third largest in the southern hemisphere.

“Time for debate about the aerotropolis for the city has long passed. As the director general of transport, I could agree that this train has long left the station. We must translate words and strategy into action,” emphasised Selepe.

“In the aerotropolis, we have the rare opportunity for a fully-integrated transport system in Erkuhuleni. Decisions need to be taken about long-term investment.”

Selepe says there are possibilities around King Shaka Airport in Durban also for selection as an aerotropolis and Cape Town airport is already exploring its options as part of its strategy towards business opportunities as a catalyst for development.

He cautioned that “the larger the opportunities visually, the bigger the potential problems,” saying that noise and land access were two such issues. “There has to be willingness to tackle these critical issues in order to expand.

“The evidence before us indicates that the African continent is a focal point of growth in the short- to medium-term.”

Liberalisation of the skies

It was noteworthy of mention by Selepe that the bulk of infrastructure development in the Middle East in Dubai is carried out by South African companies. He also said that on the African continent, including SADC neighbours, the share of build market is around eight percent, which shows the “growth potential around us, which others have recognised. We might be the last to wake up to this potential.

“We are in full support of the aerotropolis. We believe in the liberalisation of the skies. Airfares are falling and passengers are rising. We believe low-cost carriers will lead the way in opening markets. When a country opens up its skies, the world opens its wallet. 

“We need to treat aviation like any other business where there is freedom to invest. Government must create conditions for business to fly, making a meaningful contribution to building a vibrant and robust industry – balanced so they can compete in a fair manner.

 “Air transport is the quintessential transport industry that connects people across the globe. Our aviation sector must provide a clear framework for the future. Most importantly, travel must be affordable and we look to you to take that lead,” he concluded.

Vision of the future

Through the aerotropolis, the city hopes to attract strategic investments in key economic sectors including aviation and aerospace, advanced manufacturing, logistics and road and rail infrastructure. This project is the city’s economic growth path aimed at repositioning its economy within the Gauteng city region, which is envisaged to create over half a million new formal jobs over time and create projects valued at R100-billion over the next ten years. The aerotropolis is anticipated to
be a progressive player in global industry.