In a significant turnaround, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) has reported an impressive recovery trajectory, surpassing projections during the recent peak travel season.
ACSA, under the leadership of CEO Mpumi Mpofu, witnessed a surge in passenger volumes and aircraft movements, signalling a robust rebound to pre-pandemic activity levels.
This resurgence places ACSA in a strong position for future growth and profitability.
"We are very pleased with ACSA's recovery during the current financial year and during the peak period last year, with passenger volumes and aircraft movements reflecting a solid increase that has, in some cases, even exceeded our projections.
"Looking back on the peak period, we can proudly celebrate several highlights that show the strategic, financial and operational responses we put into place at the start of the pandemic continue to provide a sound and reliable framework within which to sustain our business and to begin looking towards a post-Covid-19 future," she said.
During the last financial year, particularly in the bustling festive season, ACSA experienced a marked increase in passenger traffic, with December 2023 figures exceeding expectations.
The company recorded 3.554 million passengers, outstripping its forecast of 3.425 million. This uptick includes significant rises in regional, domestic, and international passenger volumes, with international numbers surpassing the one million mark for the first time since the onset of Covid-19.
ACSA's network of airports showed an 87% recovery rate compared to the 2019/20 financial year, with a notable 17% year-on-year growth as of the end of December 2023.
OR Tambo International, in particular, continued to dominate passenger traffic across the ACSA network, illustrating its pivotal role in South Africa's aviation sector.
Furthermore, Cape Town International and King Shaka International airports have shown varied recovery rates, with domestic performance indicating a stronger rebound in smaller airports.
The company's busiest day was on December 22, 2023, with a record 129,000 passengers traversing its airports, pointing to a high demand for travel and a positive response to ACSA's strategic and operational measures instituted since the pandemic began.
Year-to-date figures for the current financial year also reflect a positive trajectory, with 27.2 million passengers compared to the previous years, despite facing challenges such as capacity constraints and airfare increases.
Mpofu said that ACSA's recovery has been bolstered by an increase in supply from airlines like FlySafair, Airlink, Lift, CemAir, and South African Airways, as well as the introduction of new routes and expansions by both local and foreign carriers.
Cargo traffic, too, has seen a remarkable recovery, notably benefiting from increased capacity and the potential boost from the recent announcement of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
"In addition, in all three of our market segments — domestic, regional, and international — new routes and route expansions by both local and foreign airlines continue to support the recovery of passenger traffic," Mpofu said.
Despite experiencing some operational challenges, including baggage system incidents at OR Tambo and Cape Town International airports, ACSA has effectively managed these situations, maintaining high levels of service and infrastructure reliability.
ACSA experienced two serious incidents over the festive season period: the first was a technical issue where one of the five baggage sortation systems in the domestic terminal at OR Tambo broke down due to an incident that affected an electromechanical sensor.
Out of a total of 77,569 bags processed at the airport on December 22 and 23, 2023, 4,500 bags were short-shipped.
This resulted in delayed flights as most domestic airlines delayed flights and waited for travellers’ bags to be loaded.
ACSA mobilised its staff, including the senior management team, to assist and the incident was resolved.
Cape Town International Airport experienced two minor baggage sortation system incidents in the first week of January 2024.
One was caused by a protruding object on a traveller’s bag which damaged a belt. The second incident was due to a premature belt failure.
These resulted in 67 and 41 bags being short-shipped, respectively.
However, these incidents were resolved on the day and most of the bags were reconciled with their owners on later flights on the same day. ACSA took further remedial action to improve enforcement of compliant bags at check-in and is now completing baggage sortation system projects for Cape Town, King Shaka, and OR Tambo which commenced in 2023 that will improve system reliability.
Regarding ACSA’s luggage scanning system, it is happy to report that X-ray machine availability is at 98%.
"I am pleased to note that we implemented our resource plan for the peak season successfully, enabling us to effectively handle the significant increases in both passenger volumes and aircraft movements. Our infrastructure generally performed well compared to previous periods across our entire network," said Mpofu.
This operational success was complemented by a recent positive financial outlook from Moody's Investors Service, reflecting confidence in ACSA's financial stability and recovery path, Mpofu noted.
"While we are not completely out of the woods yet, our recent performance gives us much reason to remain optimistic. While the outlook for the global aviation industry remains fraught with challenges and uncertainty, I am proud to say that we have much to celebrate in having achieved our relatively strong recovery position — and we look forward to the future that we have envisioned," she said.