Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) has transformed itself, since its inception in 1993, in three major areas; first, in the diversity of its workforce; second, in technical capabilities (both in core and non-core revenue streams); and finally, a complete turnaround of the passenger experience to a level that is globally recognised.
When Airports Company South Africa was established, there was a single computer in the entire Jan Smuts Airport (now flagship airport OR Tambo International Airport). At this point, no corporate head office had been established, so network operations were initially managed from Jan Smuts
Airport. The machine, which ran MS-DOS, sat on the desk of then airport manager, Jan Spies, and could only run one programme: Multimate (a word processor that predates Microsoft Office), from a floppy drive.
Things look very different after 25 years thanks to the digital revolution. Today, nearly every employee uses a computer on a daily basis, and passengers check in with digital boarding passes on their smartphones. Even departure boards are now digital, and the Airport Management Centre control rooms look like NASA control rooms.
Where shortwave radios facilitated mobile communications in the past, mobile phones now dominate.
We survived the Y2K bug (and welcomed an SAA Boeing 747 at 00:00 on 1-1-2000) and partial privatisation to become one of the most profitable state-owned entities. We reported an operating profit of R3.1 billion and revenue of R6.9 billion in 2017/18.
The infrastructure that we have built connects South Africa not only to destinations across the globe, but also to space. Our world-class runway infrastructure has received the world’s largest aircraft (Antonov AN225), the world’s fastest passenger aircraft (Concorde) – and even space shuttles can land at Upington Airport.
In the era of the first managing director, Dirk Ackermann, the emphasis was on commercialisation (to maximise rentals, parking, property development; thinking of airports as shopping centres) and digitalisation. Monhla Hlahla’s tenure was characterised by infrastructure development (developing and following a masterplan for large-scale capital expenditure), a focus on governance processes, employment equity (with an emphasis on women in leadership) and a lasting legacy of employee engagement.
Bongani Maseko’s election as chairperson of the ACI bears testament to how South Africa’s airport infrastructure management is respected worldwide. He led Airports Company South Africa into a new Governance Framework and Operating Model. He applied integrated thinking in
order to implement an integrated approach to managing business processes in a business as unique as ours. He initiated the current Vision 2025 strategy which is positioning Airports Company South Africa as a global operator. It was under his leadership that economic transformation was elevated. Staff also got the benefit of an innovative housing subsidy and the introduction of staff transport for easy and safe commuting.
Flying high into the future
Airports Company South Africa strives to make passengers’ experience as pleasurable as possible by employing digital technologies, which are transforming the seen and unseen aspects of using an airport.
First, safety is being enhanced through shorter incident response times and improved collaborative responses to emergencies. Second, efficiency of airport operations are being enhanced as digital management of airports and airfields cut turnaround times and increase aircraft movements. And third, digital technologies are transforming the passenger experience by minimising time spent at customs and security checks.
Overall, the end-to-end experience for passengers will improve with the critical points of a passenger’s journey being transformed by technological applications. Several of these technologies are already in use by Airports Company South Africa, with more to be implemented in the coming years.