Acsa spreads its wings over Africa

The airports com­pany is draw­ing on its ex­pe­ri­ence to meet the chal­lenges of the con­ti­nent

Mail & Guardian - - Business - Sa­belo Sk­iti

The Airports Com­pany South Africa (Acsa) is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that Africa’s grow­ing economies of­fer as rev­enue from its lo­cal op­er­a­tions de­clines.

Acsa’s lat­est achieve­ment is the de­liv­ery of the R3.7-bil­lion ter­mi­nal at Ghana’s Ko­toka In­ter­na­tional Air­port (KIA), which will be able to ac­com­mo­date up to five mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. The air­port is big enough for air­craft the size of an Air­bus A380 to land.

The fa­cil­ity has the lat­est in tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing a bag­gage-han­dling sys­tem that pro­cesses up to 3000 bags an hour and au­to­mated board­ing gates, which open af­ter con­firm­ing the trav­eller’s de­tails on the bar code on their board­ing pass.

It also has three busi­ness lounges, a large com­mer­cial and re­tail space and six board­ing bridges. Its open­ing last month was the con­sum­ma­tion of a five-year col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ghana Airports Com­pany Limited (GACL) and brings Acsa closer in line with its vi­sion to in­crease non­aero­nau­ti­cal rev­enue by R200mil­lion by 2025, which is be­ing driven by its 12-per­son con­sul­tancy di­vi­sion that worked on the Ghana project.

The team, which in­cludes en­gi­neers and health and safety spe­cial­ists, has pre­vi­ously worked on Brazil’s São Paulo–guarul­hos In­ter­na­tional Air­port in prepa­ra­tion for the World Cup and is also en­gaged in Zam­bia, Mozam­bique, and Liberia.

Ac­cord­ing to Acsa’s lat­est fi­nan­cials, it makes about R3.3-bil­lion of its R6.9-bil­lion an­nual rev­enues from non­core func­tions. Rev­enue from its core aero­nau­ti­cal busi­ness de­clined by R1.6-bil­lion from March 2017.

The bulk of non­core rev­enue comes from re­tail, prop­erty rentals, park­ing and car hire.

“We want to be the most sought-out part­ner for the pro­vi­sion of sus­tain­able air­port solutions … [and] grow­ing [our] foot­print, es­pe­cially in emerg­ing mar­kets,” said Re­fentse Shin­ners, Acsa’s group ex­ec­u­tive for cor­po­rate af­fairs.

GACL of­fi­cials last week her­alded the project in Ghana — from the con­struc­tion of the ter­mi­nal to its com­mis­sion­ing — as a proudly African feat and an ex­am­ple of con­ti­nen­tal co­op­er­a­tion. How­ever, the con­struc­tion on KIA was done by a Turk­ish com­pany.

Acsa, as the technical and air­port man­age­ment part­ner, as­sisted with avi­a­tion and com­mer­cial ser­vices, op­er­a­tions man­age­ment, avi­a­tion se­cu­rity and pro­fes­sional ser­vices. The African De­vel­op­ment Bank, the De­vel­op­ment Bank of South­ern Africa and Ghana’s in­fra­struc­ture fund pro­vided R2.8-bil­lion, and com­mer­cial lenders, in­clud­ing Ned­bank, the Qatar Cen­tral Bank, Stan­dard Char­tered and Ecobank, pro­vided R2.7-bil­lion.

GACL man­ag­ing di­rec­tor John Atta­fuah said that hav­ing African part­ners in­volved in the project pro­vided prac­ti­cal in­sights that helped to avoid wastage.

“It’s quite com­mend­able and wor­thy of em­u­la­tion that we didn’t have to go out to Europe or any­where else. Be­cause they [Acsa] are from Africa, they un­der­stood the con­text,” he said. “It’s some­thing they know and know about our peo­ple. For in­stance, they im­me­di­ately knew that the kind of bag­gage-han­dling sys­tem we were be­ing of­fered wasn’t go­ing to work in this en­vi­ron­ment [it wasn’t wide enough to ac­com­mo­date the kind of bag­gage typ­i­cally found on flights in Africa] and that helped us avoid a catas­tro­phe that would have be­fallen us. I don’t think we could have had this level of co-op­er­a­tion and trans­fer of knowl­edge if we had gone be­yond this con­ti­nent.”

Though the ter­mi­nal has a dis­tinc­tive Acsa aes­thetic and lay­out, the stores and dé­cor have a uniquely Ghana­ian flavour.

Charles Han­son Adu, GACL’S group ex­ec­u­tive for airports man­age­ment, said the project in­volved a fine balanc­ing act be­tween prac­ti­cal­ity and find­ing some­thing Ghana­ians would re­spond to. “We wanted to de­liver some­thing that was easy to use. We wanted fa­cil­i­ta­tion to be smoother and has­sle-free.”

Adu, who led the project man­age­ment team re­spon­si­ble for con­struc­tion and for mov­ing thou­sands of work­ers from the old ter­mi­nal two, which is now be­ing used as a do­mes­tic ter­mi­nal, to the new fa­cil­ity, said: “This was a big mon­ster. Mon­sters are big, but this is a big mon­ster.”

The former Ac­cra fire chief said he had walked about 1000km in six months dur­ing one phase of the project.

Once the build and in­stal­la­tion of in­fra­struc­ture was com­plete, he added, it un­der­went rig­or­ous test­ing, which in­cluded 38 sim­u­la­tions in­volv­ing 2000 peo­ple each time and 41 live flights with two air­lines, Delta and SAA, the only two air­lines will­ing to start using the new ter­mi­nal be­fore the air­port went “live”.

This allowed the air­port to give its aer­o­bridge op­er­a­tors a chance to master live dock­ings to get the nec­es­sary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“We started this about three months be­fore we com­mis­sioned the ter­mi­nal. We had to do it back­wards so that by the time you com­mis­sion the ter­mi­nal you al­ready had cer­ti­fied peo­ple to do the job.”

The next chal­lenge is to re­coup the in­vest­ment, which means dou­bling the cur­rent num­ber of 2.5-mil­lion an­nual users, by at­tract­ing new air­lines and open­ing new routes.

Atta­fuah de­scribed it as a multi stake­holder job, which in­cluded a new ap­proach by Ghana’s im­mi­gra­tions de­part­ment to al­low trav­ellers to ap­ply for visas on ar­rival at the air­port. The coun­try also hosted the Routes Africa con­fer­ence in July, and has in­tro­duced a pri­vate pre­mium ser­vice sim­i­lar to the one op­er­ated by the Op­pen­heimer fam­ily’s Fire­blade Avi­a­tion.

He also said dis­cus­sions had also be­gun with SAA to in­tro­duce new flights to Brazil and Lon­don through Ac­cra.

His­toric: Ghana’s Ko­toka In­ter­na­tional Air­port, which has been mod­ernised and ex­panded, can now ac­com­mo­date large planes such as the Emi­rates A380, which landed there on Oc­to­ber 2. Photo: Bob Pixel

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