The 8.6 percent year-on-year surge in domestic air passenger arrivals in September signifies the much-anticipated revival in the SA economy. Photo: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

GRAHAMSTOWN – The 8.6 percent year-on-year surge in domestic air passenger arrivals in September signifies the much-anticipated revival in the South African economy, although the increase in a few air passengers does not necessarily mean that summer is here, but it may mean that spring is here. 

This is according to data provided by the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa), which showed a moderate 3.2 percent year-on-year gain in domestic air passenger arrival numbers in August.

Air passenger numbers have been volatile this year as elections jitters in May related to political killings and xenophobic attacks saw a 1.3 percent year-on-year drop in total air passenger arrivals, before a June surge as many people undertook journeys that had been pushed back from May. 

This was then followed by a return to moderate growth in July and August. The June surge was 8 percent year on year, before an easing to a 0.9 percent year on year gain in July and a 2.4 percent year-on-year rise in August and 6.5 percent year-on-year jump in September.

In September the relative shares of the four main categories of arrivals were 67 percent for domestic arrivals, 29.8 percent for international arrivals, 3 percent for regional arrivals and only 0.2 percent for unscheduled arrivals. 

It is, therefore, useful to look at domestic arrivals to gauge the level of economic activity, whether that is business people looking to make a deal, tourists seeing the sights or people visiting loved ones.

This data is for all Acsa airports, but the most important airports from an economic perspective are the international airports at Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. 

These airports showed a mixed trend with Durban achieving growth in international arrivals near 25 percent year on year in the three months of June, July and August before a slowdown to a 12.5 percent year-on-year increase in September, while Cape Town had year-on-year declines in the past three months, and Johannesburg had a drop in July followed by no change in August and a 2.7 percent year-on-year rise in September.

The main reason for the relative performance of Durban and Cape Town is capacity, as Durban increased capacity due to the start of British Airways direct flight between Durban and London, while Cape Town has seen a 9 percent year-on-year reduction as Air France, Air Namibia and Emirates cut the number of flights to Cape Town, while Air Mauritius, Condor, Edelweiss and Kenya Airways increased the number of their flights.