The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) saw 1 092 248 international passengers travel through its airport network over the peak December 2023 holiday period – the first time it has surpassed the million mark for the month since December 2019 and the Covid pandemic.
Acsa executives hailed the milestone during a media briefing at OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday, saying it represents the strongest showing since Covid hit in 2020 and highlights that it is on track for a full recovery in annual passenger traffic within the next two years.
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“The excellent December performance highlights an overall robust recovery to pre-pandemic levels [for the period]. However, from a full-year perspective, Acsa is yet to surpass pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels,” group CEO Mpumi Mpofu told Moneyweb.
“Using the financial year 2019/20 as a base for recovery, passenger numbers across the entire Acsa network of airports achieved recovery of 87% as at the end of December 2023, with 17% year-on-year growth,” she added.
Acsa owns and operates nine airports in the country, including the ‘golden triangle’ international gateways of OR Tambo International (Johannesburg), Cape Town International and Durban’s King Shaka International.
Mpofu did not specifically go into financial performance for the current financial year (which ends on 31 March 2024), but said the stellar December exceeded Acsa’s own forecasts, with January 2024 numbers also looking good.
For its last financial year (ended March 2023), the majority state-owned airports company reported its loss narrowing to R142 million.
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Mpofu is clearly eyeing Acsa returning to profitability for this financial year. Despite a baggage debacle at OR Tambo International on 23 December, she says the overall festive season performance places Acsa “on a firm footing for future growth and an expected return to profitability”.
“Passenger volumes and aircraft movements reflected a solid increase that has, in some cases, even exceeded our projections …
“Our primary consideration at this point remains to recover our pre-pandemic position and to rapidly diversify our revenue streams to mitigate against the risks that continue to exist in aviation,” she said.
According to Acsa, it recorded 3.554 million passengers travelling through its airports in December 2023, which exceeded its forecast of 3.425 million passengers.
“Total airline movements showed a 93% recovery and a 10% year-on-year growth for December 2023 and January 2024. Total international passenger traffic was 30% of the total market,” it said.
While Mpofu said OR Tambo International accounts for the lion’s share of all air passenger traffic across the Acsa network, she noted that SA’s biggest airport had recovered to around 81% of pre-Covid levels.
Unsurprisingly, considering Cape Town’s knock-out December festive tourism season, Cape Town International Airport has surpassed pre-Covid levels.
“Total recovery is 113% for Cape Town International and 62% for King Shaka International Airport,” she said, adding that the Durban airport had not recovered some of its international routes (such as British Airways direct to London), which impacted its international passenger numbers.
“Acsa’s busiest day was recorded on 22 December 2023, with 129 000 passengers recorded across the network, compared to the December daily average of 115 000,” said Terence Delomoney, Acsa’s group executive, airport operations.
“In total, Acsa reported 27.2 million passengers travelling through its airports year-to-date [end January] in the current financial year, compared to 32.5 million for the same period in the 2019/20 financial year and 23.1 million for the 2022/23 financial year.”
According to Mpofu: “While our recovery trajectory has been consistent, the significant increase in traffic through our network during the FY2023/24 period gives us cause to remain optimistic.
“Although capacity constraints and related airfare increases resulted in flat recovery in the domestic segment, the situation is now normalising as incumbent airlines such as FlySafair, Airlink, Lift, CemAir and South African Airways continue to increase supply to offset the deficit left by the closure of Airlines including Comair, Kulula and Mango,” she added.
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