SA's smaller airports are recovering quicker – with George welcoming more arrivals than before Covid

Business Insider SA
(Photo by: Peter Titmuss/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by: Peter Titmuss/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • South Africa's airports are recovering from two years of travel bans and movement restrictions, some much faster than others.
  • The country's smaller airports are leading the charge, with George in the Western Cape welcoming more passengers than it did before the pandemic.
  • That's because regional airports don't rely as much on business travellers, according to Airports Company South Africa.
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South Africa's regional airports are recovering quicker than their bigger counterparts as domestic travellers return to the skies while the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic subdue international arrivals.

Travel to and from South Africa has been slow to recover after two years of disrupted flight schedules, border closures, and strict entry rules brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. South Africa's international airports have been hardest hit, although some are recovering at a quicker rate than others.

Domestic travel wasn't spared the brunt of Covid-19, either. South Africa's hard lockdown prohibited movement between provinces, and even when local travel reopened, airlines operated limited schedules, and demand didn't follow suit.

OR Tambo's total passenger activity has only recovered to 59% of levels seen before the pandemic, while Cape Town International Airport, bolstered by international arrivals, is at 66% of 2019 levels.

See also | Covid cut jobs in SA's tourism sector by a third – and a full recovery will take years

Regional airports are recovering far quicker, signalling a return to normal movement trends among domestic travellers.

George Airport on the Western Cape's Garden Route is leading this charge, welcoming almost 36,000 passengers in March, up more than 1% of activity recorded during the same period in 2019. Bloemfontein's Bram Fischer Airport has recovered to 83% of its pre-pandemic passenger volumes, according to data from Airports Company South Africa (ACSA)

These smaller airports, according to ACSA CEO Mpumi Mpofu, are recovering quicker because their traffic is dominated by passengers arriving for the "purpose of leisure, visiting friends and family/relatives."

"On the other hand, the meeting, incentive travel, conferences and exhibitions and business market segments have been heavily impacted due to reduced travel budgets and the rapid development of virtual meeting and conferencing platforms."

This reduction in business travel has hit international airports hardest.

"It must be emphasised that OR Tambo International's recovery has lagged due to its air travel demand being largely influenced by corporate/business traffic, which is the most severely affected market segment and its extensive route network covering all habitant continents pre-Covid 19," added Mpofu.

Mpofu admits that South Africa's "regional Airports have contributed significantly to ACSA's recovery" and expects those smaller terminals that have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity will fully recover in within a year. The country's international airports are expected to take longer to recover.

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