Airports in South Africa

AUG 04 2011
Airports >> South Africa: Lanseria International Airport - Field of Dreams

Lanseria is a relatively new airport, having opened in 1974. The site had been selected by a couple of local pilots two years before, who had recognised the area's potential as a location for an airport. It was in open, relatively flat countryside, reasonably close to the city but away from any built up areas. Lacking the funds to develop the site themselves, they had approached the local authorities who had agreed to purchase the land and lease it to a company formed to manage the new airport. It is reported that when they presented their proposal to the Minister of Transport, Hannes Rall, he said “waneer lanseer ons dit?” (when do we launch it?) The name Lanseria was derived from the word lanseer, and Mr Rall was on hand to officially open the airport on the 16th of August 1974. The first aircraft to land there was a Lear Jet.

A major coup for Lanseria was being selected to host Africa’s first aviation trade show, Air Africa International, in 1975. This was the first time that South African buyers had an opportunity to view the products at home, rather than having to travel to the likes of Farnborough or Paris. Airshows were to become a major feature of life here for a number of years.

In 1976 the South African Air Force Museum moved to Lanseria, and this was followed in 1979 by two squadrons of the South African Air Force. No 4 Squadron moved in with its Atlas Impalas, a licence built version of the Aermacchi MB 326. It operated both the Mk1 two seat trainer and the Mk11 single seat strike/attack versions. It was joined by No 41 Squadron operating the Atlas C4M Kudu in the reconnaissance role.

Being a civilian airport, the air force pilots found Lanseria a much more relaxed place to operate from than a regular air force base. At the time the regular air force bases operated in dual languages, spending alternate weeks working in English and Afrikaans!

On February 12th 1990, following his release from prison the previous day, future president Nelson Mandela first set foot on Gauteng soil when he was flown into Lanseria by private jet.

In 1990 the airport was put up for sale and was eventually sold to a consortium of private investors the following year. It is currently the only privately owned international airport in the country.

As a result of the changes sweeping the country with the end of the apartheid era the SAAF moved out in 1991, with No 4 Squadron disbanding, No 41 moving to Waterkloof AFB and the remaining exhibits of the SAAF Museum moving to Swartkop AFB. Today there are no obvious signs that the Air Force had ever been there.

The late 1990s saw continued growth at Lanseria, necessitating an expansion of the main terminal building which was completed in 2002. Upgrades to the runways and taxiways were completed in 2004. Lanseria currently has two parallel runways, 06L/24R at 3048m and 06R/24L at 1524m (which is actually a section of the parallel taxiway). For instrument approaches there is an ILS localiser for 06L and also a VOR/DME plus a pair of NDBs.

Lanseria’s ease of access and proximity to both the affluent northern part of Johannesburg, the business district of Sandton and the country’s capital Pretoria, give it a large catchment area. This was recognised by SA Airlink (a subsidiary of South African Airways) which started a scheduled service to Cape Town in May 2004, once the terminal improvements had been completed. However it only lasted for a little over a year as they gave up with the route in July 2005. In 2006 South Africa’s first low cost airline Kulula (Zulu for “easily”) commenced operations from the airport with a daily rotation to Cape Town. Its operations have subsequently grown to around 200 movements a week with flights to Cape Town and Durban. It would appear to be an airline with a sense of humour, if the colour schemes of its Boeing 737s are anything to go by!

The airport had signed a five year exclusivity deal with Kulula’s owners Comair, which also operates the local British Airways franchise. In this guise it had planned to start flying from Lanseria to Maputo in Mozambique and Gaberone in Botswana at the end of May, using an ATR 72 leased from Solenta Aviation. However, the start of these services has now been delayed until September.

As the exclusivity deal comes to an end other operators are planning to take advantage and start services from the airport. The first to get in on the act was low cost carrier Mango, which started with three round trips a day to Cape Town on June 1st. Another low cost carrier, 1time, is also planning to start services from Lanseria, and currently aims to start in the third quarter of the year, also with flights to Cape Town and Durban.

The airport has plans for further expansion to accommodate the extra flights. The near future should see runway upgrades, more aircraft parking bays, more car parking and possibly even a hotel. The R512 road from the city, which passes by Lanseria, has also been improved considerably and soon will be a dual carriageway, further improving the airport's connections.

However, Lanseria isn’t just a home for scheduled airlines. It is also home to a large and diverse number of other operators and businesses, covering the whole spectrum of aviation related activities. A stroll around the apron and hangar areas will find charter operators, survey companies, aircraft sales companies, flying schools, maintenance organisations providing both traditional engineering support and also painting and upholstery services. Some well known names can be found here, such as the United Nations and Mission Aviation Fellowship. A few surprises can also be found tucked away in the hangars amongst all the “normal” aircraft, with delights such as a survey DC-3, a Pitts Special and a couple of warbirds in the shape of P-51D “Mustang Sally” and an ex-Luftwaffe Dornier 27 present in March.

Lanseria is a favourite point of entry for VIPs, from heads of state to celebrities and many executive aircraft are to be found around the airport. John Travolta’s Boeing 707 was here during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the largest aircraft present during GAR's visit was a South African registered executive Boeing 727-200, which was previously operated by the Nigerian government. As well as a large number of executive aircraft based here, there is also an FBO operated by ExecuJet handling both its own fleet and visitors'. South Africa is a country with plenty of space, so it doesn’t have the noise issues that affect other parts of the world. This has resulted in Lanseria becoming a refuge for Gulfstream IIs as noise regulations in other parts of the world squeeze them out. A number of them can be found around the airport.

Sadly not every fledging operator at Lanseria is as successful as Kulula, and dotted around the airport are some aircraft that will probably never get air under their wings again. Their owners have either run out of money or they had aspirations and dreams above their borrowing capacity. Scattered around the ramp can be found a number of BAe 146s, Fokker F28s and 100s and Boeing 737s, all appearing to be in need of gainful employment. Parked in the grass on the south side of the airport are the ones that didn’t make it, sitting out their final days awaiting the scrap man.

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