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Jurriën timber OR Tambo International airport experienced a successful holiday season which saw thousands of passengers using the airport in a stress-free and well-managed environment.

“We are immensely proud, except for the glitch of the fuel supply fault that we encountered. We once again apologise profusely to holidaymakers,” transport minister Fikile Mbalula said.

Mbalula was speaking after an oversight visit to the airport on Monday to check on the work Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) was doing to ensure seamless travel and assess their readiness for 2023.

He said he had received a detailed briefing from Acsa on the situation at the airport and the company was prepared to welcome people back into the country and province.

“This past week, this airport was confronted with a challenge of a technical fault between the fuel storage facility and the main hydrant system which impacted the refuelling of aircraft.

“The technical issue was as a result of the main supply valve supplying fuel to the aprons, not opening, resulting in rotational delays to domestic and international departures.”

He said Acsa had responded swiftly and immediately implemented a contingency measure, deploying a tanker to refuel aircraft.

The subsequent delays affected 41 flights, 32 of which were domestic, eight international and one a regional flight.

“The swift manner with which Acsa dealt with the challenge minimised the impact and ensured that flights returned to normal within a reasonable time. I thank the affected passengers for their patience and airlines for their understanding and co-operation in enabling us to resolve the challenge speedily,” Mbalula said.

He said last week’s situation was not related to jet fuel supply challenges experienced at the airport last year.

Acsa CEO Mpumi Mpofu said the fault had been resolved.

“We are now in a position to fast-track the implementation of mitigating projects that will help us ensure we do not have a reoccurrence of this nature.”

She added though the airport usually supplied jet fuel via rail and a fuel pipeline, Acsa was also looking at a third alternative for jet fuel to be ferried by road.  

“We also have entered into an agreement with Transnet to allow us to access their jet fuel slug in Jameson Park which basically gives us further assurance that jet fuel shortage is going to be a thing of the past.”

Mbalula said Covid-19 severely affected the global aviation industry and Acsa was no exception.

“In the last year, Acsa saw a steady recovery in passenger volumes with numbers gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels during the peak season. This follows measures put in place by Acsa at OR Tambo to ensure the passenger experience is seamless.”

Mbalula said the airport handled “close to 300 departing air traffic movements per day” — both domestic and international — on its busiest days such as December 14, 15 and 16.

“In terms of daily passenger volumes, the airport processed more than 27,000 departing domestic passengers per day on December 9, 16 and 23, which amounted to a 78% recovery rate from the previous year’s volumes.

“We are ready to handle the influx on January 6 as travellers return from holiday.”

He said Acsa had introduced several technology solutions such as e-gates to streamline passenger processing and shorten waiting lines. This was complemented by efforts to increase Acsa’s human resource capacity to provide excellent service during the peak holiday season.

“The addition of a variety of new airlines and flight frequencies during the peak period tested our systems and procedures even further.”

He said all Acsa’s terminal subsystems were ready.  These included baggage handling systems and all common-use check-in machines which were instrumental in delivering a seamless passenger experience.

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