As spring arrives in the UK, the Southern Hemisphere is headed for autumn, but the weather is still fine and warm. Paul Dunn spent an enjoyable couple of hours photographing arrivals and departures at Cape Town International Airport, in some pleasant, late summer sunshine.
Cape Town International is the second busiest airport in South Africa, with long haul international services to Europe and the Middle East, along with regional services to neighbouring countries. The majority of flights, however, are to destinations in South Africa, particularly the two airports serving the Johannesburg and Pretoria area, OR Tambo International and Lanseria. Of these, OR Tambo International is the most popular and the route between it and Cape Town is in fact the 9th busiest route in the world.
There is no official viewing area at Cape Town, but good views of operations are possible from several locations. Within the terminal building, there is a large food court area with windows which overlook the ramp, although these are tinted and not great for photos. Far better is the northern multi storey car park, which offers views of the approach to runway 19, and also allows photography of aircraft taxying for departure.
Both locations are really only good in the afternoon, due to the north/south orientation of the runway; I decided to spend a couple of hours at the airport back in March, on a warm, sunny day. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the airport, I found that as a consequence of Cape Town’s unusual microclimate, there was a narrow band of cloud sitting directly over the airfield! The prevailing wind on the day was blowing moist air from the Atlantic Ocean, which was forced to rise by Table Mountain. In the lee of the mountain, a stubborn line of cloud had developed, which led right to the airport! Fortunately as the afternoon wore on, this cloud became less of an issue, and this coincided with the best light of the day.
Largest operator at Cape Town is, of course, South African Airways, plus its regional partners Airlink and South African Express. Most common type for the airline is the Boeing 737-800, but it uses aircraft as large as the A330/340 for services to Johannesburg.
Demand for seats on the Johannesburg route has led to a plethora of carriers competing for business. The longest established of these is Comair, which has for many years been a British Airways franchise carrier. The airline mainly operates 737-400s, but recently a pair of 737-800s were added to the fleet; these look especially smart, so far the only Next Gen 737s to carry the BA livery.
Both SAA and Comair have set up low cost carriers; in the case of SAA, it is the striking orange 737-800s of Mango.
Comair’s low cost arm is known as Kulula. Kulula’s aircraft are painted in a variety of striking colour schemes, including several advertising companies such as Europcar. In the past, the airline has been known for some cheekier one off schemes, such as the famous ‘Flying 101’.
Independent low cost airlines in South Africa have, to an extent, tended to come and go. Past names such as Velvet Sky and One Time have ceased trading in a market that is lucrative but competitive. Recently, two new players have entered the market, the first of which is actually owned one of South Africa’s established freight carriers, Safair. Branded Fly Safair, the company uses 737-400s on the Johannesburg to Cape Town route.
The latest addition to the Cape Town scene is Sky Wise, another operator of 737s. The airline started trading at the beginning of March, and one of the team behind formerly held a senior position with One Time; it is to be hoped that this is a rather more successful venture. Although looking very smart in its new colours, this 737-300 is actually 27 years old, having been delivered to Air Europe as G-BNPB in March, 1988. It has been through a variety of owners, including British airline Astreaus, before turning up in South Africa around five years ago.
During the time I was there, there were two services by other African airlines; Namibia is South Africa’s neighbour to the north and Air Namibia’s smart fleet is a common site at Cape Town.
I was hoping to catch one of Air Botswana’s fleet of BAE 146/RJs, so I was slightly disappointed when the advertised flight turned out to be operated by an all white, South African registered CRJ!
Long haul traffic tends to mainly arrive in the morning and depart in the evening, especially where European carriers are concerned. Qatar Airlines operates a flight from Doha, which normally arrives in the late morning; on the day of my visit, however, the flight was delayed by several hours, meaning it arrived in the early evening! Not very convenient for the passengers, I’m sure, but I was very pleased to shoot the 787-8 arriving in perfect conditions!