Cape Town airport is doing better than OR Tambo – but still a lot quieter than pre-Covid

Business Insider SA
Cape Town International Airport (Getty Images)
Cape Town International Airport (Getty Images)
  • Cape Town International Airport's overall passenger activity levels in the first quarter of 2022 have increased to 66% of those recorded before the pandemic.
  • All passengers arriving and departing through Johannesburg's OR Tambo remain at 59% of pre-pandemic levels.
  • Cape Town's activity has been bolstered by international arrivals, which is also aiding in the recovery of the city's tourism sector.
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Cape Town International Airport is recovering quicker to pre-pandemic levels of passenger traffic than Johannesburg's OR Tambo but still has a long way to go before returning to normal.

Air travel to, from, and within South Africa recently reached its highest levels of activity since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost 2.3 million arriving and departing passengers passed through South Africa's three major airports in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban in March, up 70% from the year prior.

The easing of travel restrictions and resumption of regular airline services are evident in data supplied by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA). Passenger activity remained subdued in the last months of 2021 due to Omicron-induced international travel restrictions but rebounded strongly in the first quarter of 2022.

Of the three major airports, Cape Town's recovery has been the strongest, bolstered by international arrivals.

OR Tambo's total passenger activity – including domestic, regional, and international arrivals and departures – in the first quarter of 2022 remained at 59% of the levels seen prior to the pandemic in 2019.

Cape Town International Airport's total passenger activity, as recorded by ACSA, had increased to 66% of levels last seen in the first quarter of 2019.

International arrivals and departures through Cape Town were still at half the levels recorded prior to the pandemic but are recovering at the quickest rate, while Johannesburg's international passenger activity remained at 42%.

Domestic passenger activity at Johannesburg's OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airport was closely matched – at 73% and 72% recovery, respectively – as a comparison to levels seen before the pandemic.

Cape Town International Airport's quicker recovery rate signals a boost to the city's vital visitor economy, according to City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Growth, James Vos.

"The recovery of Cape Town's visitor economy is a major gain for the city's economy even though we haven't yet fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels," said Vos.

This recovery, and its benefit to the local economy, is especially significant with international arrivals, which, according to Cape Town Tourism, were at 74% of the levels last seen in April 2019.

"We are committed to moving from tourism recovery to a chapter of tourism readiness," said Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism.

"In March, we saw a 72% recovery in domestic arrivals and 62% in international arrivals. In April, our domestic recovery numbers increased by 4%, alongside an impressive 12% jump in international arrivals. The numbers are looking extremely positive, and we hope to keep the momentum going, even with the inevitable impact of winter."

Increased passenger activity at Cape Town International Airport has also translated into improved occupancy rates of more than 66% – compared to just 40% a year ago – in the Mother City.

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