OR Tambo International Airport (Ortia) in Johannesburg has geared up to ensure safe, stress-free holiday travels for an anticipated four million passengers this festive season.

Ortia GM, Bongiwe Pityi-Vokwana, says the airport community is fully prepared for the busiest time of the year.

“About 38 000 people are employed in and around the airport. Of these, only about 1 400 are directly employed by us. We are fortunate that all our stakeholders appreciate that we work in an ecosystem where running an efficient airport relies on continuous collaboration among thousands of people.

“The regulatory demands to guarantee civil aviation safety require effective planning and synchronisation of thousands of activities every hour in the passenger’s journey, from arrival on our landside to when the aircraft takes off, lands and passengers safely leave the airport,” says Pityi-Vokwana.

She says thorough preparation includes contingency planning with the mutual support of the airport community, which includes airport staff, airlines, air traffic controllers, South African Weather Services, ground handlers, contracted security staff, retailers, car-rental firms, mechanical, electrical, civil infrastructure and IT equipment maintenance contractors, law enforcement agencies such as the South African Police Service, SARS Customs and Excise, Immigration Services, State Security Agency and many others.

A recent aircraft crash crisis simulation exercise, overseen by the South African Civil Aviation Authority as part of the airport licensing process, thoroughly tested the abilities of airlines, air traffic control, ground handlers, airport management, emergency services, law enforcement agencies, and other role players around Gauteng to respond quickly and effectively to any situation, says Pityi-Vokwana.

Ortia emergency simulation.

According to Leigh Gunkel-Keuler, Senior Manager: Corporate Affairs for Ortia, the timing of this large-scale exercise was apt with the festive season approaching.

“In addition, airport staff and our safety and security partners have made tremendous strides over the past 18 months in intensifying our security operations and combating crime. We are especially appreciative of the efforts of the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority in securing convictions and lengthy sentences for some of those responsible for the armed robbery at the airport in March 2017,” she says.

There were 676 arrests for all classes of crime, representing a 20% month-on-month reduction in cases reported at the airport.

Pityi-Vokwana adds: “Aviation security is a highly regulated licence-carrying responsibility. I am extremely proud of our security teams who are always willing to go the extra mile and demonstrate a tireless work ethic, often forfeiting meal breaks and willingly volunteering for overtime. Over 90% of the successes achieved by our passenger and hand luggage X-ray screening staff are attributable to diligence, teamwork and well-trained eyes studying passenger behavioural trends.

“This is always a very busy time for the airport. Among the four million passengers, most of them will be first-time flyers and a substantial number of elderly people. The operational demands are therefore different at this time of year because of the different passenger mix. But I can assure travellers that it is all hands on deck for and we are ready.”