East London Airport poised to soar to new heights

Loss of SA Express flights a blessing in disguise as other airlines took full advantage of the gap

This artist’s impression of the new East London Airport after its upgrades envisions a sleek and modern new departures lounge and multistorey parking.
This artist’s impression of the new East London Airport after its upgrades envisions a sleek and modern new departures lounge and multistorey parking.
Image: Supplied

East London Airport is flying – and a huge upgrade starting next year will see it reach even greater heights.

Airport manager Michael Kernekamp told a media briefing hosted by Airports Company South Africa that the loss of the SA Express flights had been picked up quickly by other airlines, which had the effect of bringing in new passengers.

A number of upgrades have started already, with the installation of a rainwater harvest system for the airport’s fire fighting section.

The next phase of big projects will bring ease and convenience to airport clients and add lustre to Buffalo City Metro and the Eastern Cape as a destination for work and play, he added.

These projects, due to kick off next year, include:

A R215m multistorey parking lot;

A R72m expansion of the departure lounge;

A R21m solar plant; and

A R27m extension of the existing apron eastwards to make space for an additional new-generation Code C aircraft.

Kernekemp said with the new parkade above the present parking lot would come new access roads. Airport planners had found that the parkade was imperative to accommodate future traffic growth.

“The parkade will have a minimum of 800 bays. About 400 to 500 bays will be replacement bays, due to the new parkade being constructed on an existing parking area.

“The parkade will have a minimum of 800 bays. About 400 to 500 bays will be replacement bays, due to the new parkade being constructed on an existing parking area.

“The location of the parkade will be carefully co-ordinated with the planned new terminal building to ensure efficient connectivity,” Kernekamp said.

A contractor has already been appointed for the R21m solar plant with construction expected to begin later this year.

There is a logic to the new developments. Kernekamp said there was a 3% growth in the number of passengers landing and taking off.

While the loss of SA Express flights had caused a 9% cut in the number of flights, this had been overcome.

“We have still managed to get growth in terms of passenger numbers because airlines are working smarter with bigger aircraft.”

The grounding of the SA Express flights had left a 40% passenger market share up for grabs, he explained, adding: “Airlines have been capitalising on that, with the increased flights from SAA and the night stop flight, which was brought back due to popular demand by business people flying to day meetings in Johannesburg.

“With the increased number of low-cost airlines coming at the East London airport, we have noticed that this has not taken away from the clients of South African Airways but has rather tapped into a different market, where we find that new people who weren’t flying are doing so now, and this has also contributed to the growth of the airport.”

Kernekamp said Airlink had come to the rescue with the introduction of their Cape Town and Durban routes in addition to the routes offered by Kulula and FlySafair, while SAA had increased their Johannesburg flights. Acsa corporate affairs senior manager Senzeni Ndebele said they commissioned PWD to conduct a study to establish the airport’s overall economic contribution to the GDP, taxes and employment.

Ndebele said the study found East London airport generated R222m in the 2017-18 financial year, that R47m was paid in salaries and that the airport provided permanent jobs to 264 employees.

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