By Quinton de Villiers
It is certainly exciting times for any company located in the vicinity of OR Tambo International Airport in the larger Ekurhuleni area.
This is considering the commitment both the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality continue to demonstrate in forging ahead with the highly ambitious “Aerotropolis” development.
Bridgewater Logistics’ head offices and main operation are based in the heart of this growing hub, where our secure infrastructure includes 9 000 square metres of warehousing and 20 000 square metres of parking space.
They are, therefore, strategically positioned to benefit from most projects connected to the “Aerotropolis” development.
These include those at the airport, which is set to undergo major expansions as part of the larger project that will bolster its already-significant cargo-handling capabilities.
Certainly of interest to Bridgewater Logistics are recent announcements made by the municipality and ACSA that they were still pursuing the highly-anticipated “Midfield” development, as they will have far-reaching positive impacts on existing cargo-handling operations at the busiest airport on the continent.
The decision has been based upon a positive outcome of a feasibility study completed by a well-known engineering consultancy in 2015. Its findings have been incorporated into an ACSA Master plan that charts the way forward for the airport, and integrated into the “Aerotropolis” development.
One of the highlights of the study is the proposed construction of two shallow tunnels under the existing runways. They will link operations on the eastern side of the complex to new cargo facilities that will be developed between the runways.
This is a very exciting development as it sees South Africa follow global trends in airport expansion projects, which focus on exploiting the extensive available space that already-exists between runways.
It means that the tunnelling work will have to be undertaken under existing runways to avoid disrupting airport operations during the construction phases – a feat that has also never been attempted in South Africa.
However, it is equally encouraging to learn that less glamorous connections are also being considered by ACSA, bearing in mind the risks, as well as costs associated with such a complex undertaking. South Africa’s recent downgrading will also, inevitably, have a major adverse impact on infrastructure programmes of this magnitude, while the state of international markets will also stifle lending.
The other options that are being explored include establishing link roads around the threshold of the runway. They have also proved to be feasible, and may just be a quicker option to kick-starting this important initiative.
This is just one of more than 20 catalytic projects that are to be delivered within the next 25 years that are closely associated with the “Aerotropolis” project.
Yes, there has been a lot of scepticism around many of these large government-driven projects, considering that so many of them have encountered major delays for a number of reasons. The deferred proposed “dig-out” port in Durban is just one example.
It is, therefore, important that we assess progress that has already been made in driving the “Aerotropolis” in an attempt to assess the political will to see the project to fruition.
All signs point towards solid steps being taken to unlock the full potential of Ekurhuleni as a logistics and cargo hub.
In September 2016, a unit load device (ULD) storage facility was completed at the airport that accommodates about 600 empty ULD containers, complementing current expansion at existing cargo operations.
Meanwhile, the establishment of two major landholdings is now under way at the airport. The first entails about 187 000 square metres of additional development rights, with a potential aggregate investment value of more than R4-billion, and the other the proclamation of the first phase of 43 ha of industrial zoned land, which will be completed this year.
Bridgewater Logistics will continue to follow this very important development!