OR Tambo strategically plotting cargo future

While cargo has never had a sharp focus at South Africa’s main gateway airport and Africa’s largest and busiest, this is set to change in the coming years as the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) works alongside government and city officials to develop the airport and surrounding area into a world class logistics hub. By Donald Urquhart.

OR Tambo strategically plotting cargo future

Handling nearly 19 million passengers per year the airport – named after the former president of the African National Congress (ANC), Oliver Reginald Tambo, whose job it was to travel abroad in order to mobilise international opinion in opposition to the apartheid system – handles nearly 320,000 tonnes of cargo annually. Of this 191,000 tonnes is domestic cargo and the remaining 129,000 tonnes is international including what the airport terms as regional, from other southern African countries.

South African Airways operates its hub out of OR Tambo and self handles its own cargo while three other ground handlers – Menzies, Swissport and Bidair Services (a South African conglomerate) are licensed as third party handlers.

“Historically we’ve never focused on cargo largely because none of our revenue is linked to the tonnage other than landing fees for the aircraft,” says general manager Tebogo Mekgoe. The current model is to lease cargo facilities out to forwarders and handlers who operate them on behalf of shippers and airlines.

The airport has both facilities for perishables which make up about 16 per cent of inbound and 12 per cent of outbound cargo, as well as general cargo. With significant automotive manufacturing in the country, mostly by German companies like Mercedes, BMW and VW, the airport sees significant automotive cargos – mostly spare parts – which form about eight per cent outbound and 15 per cent inbound. But this lack of intensive cargo focus is set to change as the airport is currently studying the space for future capacity growth because currently it is constrained – highway on one side, runway on the other. “What we’re trying to focus on is to learn enough about cargo and the logistics around cargo such that the facility we put in place gives everybody involved the necessary flexibility,” Mekgoe said.