One of the beauties of starting small is how the excitement builds as a business gains momentum and begins to grow. Upington International Airport may be the smallest airport in the Airports Company South Africa network of airports but it is already beginning to fulfil ambitious expansion plans.
History indicates that Pierre van Ryneveld Airport, located in the Northern Cape, officially opened its doors in the early 1900s, comprising a cross, grass runway that was situated adjacent to the current SANDF facilities known as 8SA Infantry Battalion.
In 1968, the airport was revamped and the site became known as Upington Airport. Back then, it boasted a double-storey building with a viewing deck that was frequented by families on weekend outings, as well as a meet and greet location for loved ones.
Today, Upington International Airport has grown in size and has modernised significantly from those humble beginnings. It received international status with the inception of Airports Company South Africa in 1993 and, in recent years, has enjoyed an eight percent annual increase in passenger figures.
While Upington International is the smallest airport within the group, its ambitions are grand and it boasts the longest runway in the entire southern hemisphere described as follows:
"Runway 17/35 was built (by LTS) in just six months, from January through to July 1976. It was built specifically to accommodate a Boeing 747 (as it still does today) and Upington was chosen because of its location and the availability of land.
The Boeing 747 is significant as it transports international cargo to South Africa. In turn, this encourages foreign investment in Upington.
Airlink operates flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg. The airport facilitates between 55,000 and 60,000 passengers per annum. However, the split is roughly 80 percent business travel to 20 percent tourism. The business aspect, in particular freight, has an important role in revenue and the future.
The 'busy season' for cargo is between October and April each year, when the weather is typically hot and dry. Many of the business travellers are from Germany – companies like BMW and Mercedes Benz transport their cars using the Boeing 747 to test vehicles in Upington. As a result, other opportunities have arisen for Upington including foreign investment to help further develop the airport and its surrounding areas.