/ 14 December 2018

Acsa spreads its wings over Africa

Historic: Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport
Historic: Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport, which has been modernised and expanded, can now accommodate large planes such as the Emirates A380, which landed there on October 2. (Bob Pixel)

The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) is taking advantage of the opportunities that Africa’s growing economies offer as revenue from its local operations declines.

Acsa’s latest achievement is the delivery of the R3.7-billion terminal at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport (KIA), which will be able to accommodate up to five million passengers a year. The airport is big enough for aircraft the size of an Airbus A380 to land.

The facility has the latest in technology, including a baggage-handling system that processes up to 3 000 bags an hour and automated boarding gates, which open after confirming the traveller’s details on the bar code on their boarding pass.

It also has three business lounges, a large commercial and retail space and six boarding bridges. Its opening last month was the consummation of a five-year collaboration with Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) and brings Acsa closer in line with its vision to increase nonaeronautical revenue by R200-million by 2025, which is being driven by its 12-person consultancy division that worked on the Ghana project.

The team, which includes engineers and health and safety specialists, has previously worked on Brazil’s São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport in preparation for the World Cup and is also engaged in Zambia, Mozambique, and Liberia.

According to Acsa’s latest financials, it makes about R3.3-billion of its R6.9-billion annual revenues from noncore functions. Revenue from its core aeronautical business declined by R1.6-billion from March 2017.

The bulk of noncore revenue comes from retail, property rentals, parking and car hire.

“We want to be the most sought-out partner for the provision of sustainable airport solutions … [and] growing [our] footprint, especially in emerging markets,” said Refentse Shinners, Acsa’s group executive for corporate affairs.

GACL officials last week heralded the project in Ghana — from the construction of the terminal to its commissioning — as a proudly African feat and an example of continental co-operation. However, the construction on KIA was done by a Turkish company.

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Acsa, as the technical and airport management partner, assisted with aviation and commercial services, operations management, aviation security and professional services. The African Development Bank, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and Ghana’s infrastructure fund provided R2.8-billion, and commercial lenders, including Nedbank, the Qatar Central Bank, Standard Chartered and EcoBank, provided R2.7-billion.

GACL managing director John Attafuah said that having African partners involved in the project provided practical insights that helped to avoid wastage.

“It’s quite commendable and worthy of emulation that we didn’t have to go out to Europe or anywhere else. Because they [Acsa] are from Africa, they understood the context,” he said. “It’s something they know and know about our people. For instance, they immediately knew that the kind of baggage-handling system we were being offered wasn’t going to work in this environment [it wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the kind of baggage typically found on flights in Africa] and that helped us avoid a catastrophe that would have befallen us. I don’t think we could have had this level of co-operation and transfer of knowledge if we had gone beyond this continent.”

Though the terminal has a distinctive Acsa aesthetic and layout, the stores and décor have a uniquely Ghanaian flavour.

Charles Hanson Adu, GACL’s group executive for airports management, said the project involved a fine balancing act between practicality and finding something Ghanaians would respond to. “We wanted to deliver something that was easy to use. We wanted facilitation to be smoother and hassle-free.”

Adu, who led the project management team responsible for construction and for moving thousands of workers from the old terminal two, which is now being used as a domestic terminal, to the new facility, said: “This was a big monster. Monsters are big, but this is a big monster.”

The former Accra fire chief said he had walked about 1 000km in six months during one phase of the project.

Once the build and installation of infrastructure was complete, he added, it underwent rigorous testing, which included 38 simulations involving 2 000 people each time and 41 live flights with two airlines, Delta and SAA, the only two airlines willing to start using the new terminal before the airport went “live”.

This allowed the airport to give its aerobridge operators a chance to master live dockings to get the necessary certification.

“We started this about three months before we commissioned the terminal. We had to do it backwards so that by the time you commission the terminal you already had certified people to do the job.”

The next challenge is to recoup the investment, which means doubling the current number of 2.5-million annual users, by attracting new airlines and opening new routes.

Attafuah described it as a multi stakeholder job, which included a new approach by Ghana’s immigrations department to allow travellers to apply for visas on arrival at the airport. The country also hosted the Routes Africa conference in July, and has introduced a private premium service similar to the one operated by the Oppenheimer family’s Fireblade Aviation.

He also said discussions had also begun with SAA to introduce new flights to Brazil and London through Accra.