Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) is pleased to announce that it is well on its way to a full recovery – with some of its airports even exceeding projections – following a bustling and active peak and festive season that saw passenger volumes climbing strongly towards the end of last year.
ACSA CEO Mpumi Mpofu notes that the organisation is showing signs of overall robust recovery to pre-pandemic levels, placing ACSA on a firm footing for future growth and an expected return to profitability.
"We are very pleased with ACSA's recovery during the current financial year and during the peak period last year, with passenger volumes and aircraft movements reflecting a solid increase that has, in some cases, even exceeded our projections," says Mpofu.
"Looking back on the peak period, we can proudly celebrate several highlights that show that the strategic, financial and operational responses we put into place at the start of the pandemic continue to provide a sound and reliable framework within which to sustain our business and to begin looking towards a post-COVID-19 future."
She says that by year-end, ACSA had managed to establish a solid recovery position, with the total air passenger traffic through its network having increased significantly over the previous period, as well as recording a solid recovery to near pre-COVID-19 passenger throughput.
"Therefore, 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 adds.
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 end of December 2023, with 17% year-on-year growth. In December 2023, the organisation recorded 3.554 million passengers travelling through its airports, which exceeded its forecast of 3.425 million passengers. Of these, regional passenger volumes totalled 73 492, while domestic passenger volumes accounted for 2.4 million. International passenger volumes rose to 1.018 million, breaching the one million mark for the first time since the pandemic.
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. The total number of passengers was 1 092 248 with total international air traffic movements being 9 610.
OR Tambo accounts for the lion's share of all traffic across the ACSA network as illustrated in the 2019 to 2024 comparative graph. Of a total 1,249 309 travellers over the period, OR Tambo processed 922 595 in 2019/2020, 652 710 in 2022/23 and 745 511 in 2023/24 or 81% of all total traffic across the ACSA network as illustrated in the graph.
Total recovery is 113% for Cape Town International and 62% for King Shaka International Airport.
Domestic performance indicates the greatest recovery at smaller ACSA airports with the highest recovery in Kimberley at 125%; Bram Fischer at 100% and OR Tambo at 91%. Domestic movement: Upington at 125%; Kimberley at 109%; CTIA at 104% and OR Tambo at 102%. One of the core drivers was tourism-related travel which translates into the figures to tourist airports.
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.
In total, ACSA reported 27.2 million passengers travelling through its airports year-to-date 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.
"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," says Mpofu.
"In addition, in all three of our market segments – domestic, regional, and international – new routes and route expansions by both local and foreign airlines continue to support the recovery of passenger traffic."
OR Tambo continues to be ACSA's major cargo hub. Cargo saw a 115% recovery and a 14% year-on-year growth. There was an increase in capacity due to belly cargo on wide-body aircraft. The announcement of the first African Continental Free Trade Area yesterday ignites phenomenal cargo growth for Africa and specifically ACSA into the future.
In terms of aircraft movements, ACSA is also pleased to report that its network is recovering at 88%, when using the financial year 2019/20 as a base for recovery, with 9% growth when compared year-on-year. A total of 345 277 aircraft movements were recorded year-to-date during the current financial year, compared to 390 306 during the 2019/20 financial year.
For the month of December last year, ACSA recorded a 93% recovery, with a total of 38 834 aircraft movements, and a 94% recovery in January this year, with a total of 24 396 aircraft movements. This is in comparison to the 41 606 and 26 050 aircraft movements in December and January of 2019/20, respectively.
ACSA experienced two serious incidents over the festive season period: the first was a technical issue where one of the five baggage sortation systems in the domestic terminal at OR Tambo broke down due to an incident that affected an electromechanical sensor. Out of a total of 77 569 bags processed at the airport on 22 and 23 December 2023, 4 500 bags were short shipped. This resulted in delayed flights as most domestic airlines delayed flights and waited for travellers' bags to be loaded. ACSA mobilised its staff, including the senior management team, to assist and the incident was resolved.
Cape Town International Airport experienced two minor baggage sortation system incidents in the first week of January 2024. One was caused by a protruding object on a traveller's bag which damaged a belt. The second incident was due to a premature belt failure. These resulted in 67 and 41 bags respectively being short shipped. However, these incidents were resolved on the day and most of the bags were reconciled with their owners on later flights on the same day. ACSA took further remedial action to improve enforcement of compliant bags at check-in and is now completing baggage sortation system projects for Cape Town, King Shaka and OR Tambo which commenced in 2023 that will improve system reliability and redundancy.
Regarding ACSA's luggage scanning system, it is happy to report that X-ray machine availability is at 98%.
"I am pleased to note that we implemented our resource plan for the peak season successfully, enabling us to effectively handle the significant increases in both passenger volumes and aircraft movements. Our infrastructure generally performed well compared to previous periods across our entire network," says Mpofu.
Underscoring this robust performance was an announcement by Moody's Investors Service in January, which changed its outlook from negative to stable on ACSA, while also affirming the Ba2 corporate family rating (CFR) and upgraded ACSA's national scale long-term issuer rating to Aa1 from Aa2 and ACSA's Baseline Credit Assessment (BCA) to Ba2 from Ba3.
"This is a positive development, based on Moody's assessment of ACSA's proposed tariff increases and improved revenue visibility over the period to March 2028. In addition, Moody's also acknowledged our recovery in traffic and the deleveraging that has supported a strengthening of ACSA's key credit metrics," says Mpofu.
"While we are not completely out of the woods yet, our recent performance gives us much reason to remain optimistic. While the outlook for the global aviation industry remains fraught with challenges and uncertainty, I am proud to say that we have much to celebrate in having achieved our relatively strong recovery position – and we look forward to the future that we have envisioned."