2010 World Cup: Readiness of airports & La Mercy Airport report: Department & Airports Company briefings

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11 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms R Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) and the Department of Transport briefed the Portfolio Committee on the state of readiness of the country’s airports for the 2010 World Cup. ACSA was responsible for 89% of civil aviation in South Africa, including the major airports, and aviation would be central to transport for the World Cup. There were challenges around seat capacity, ensuring efficient services, ensuring that normal business was not frustrated, and security. The longer term economic requirements after 2010 must also be considered. Fuel demand would be high and security of fuel supply would be a major issue. ACSA gave a short progress report on the construction of La Mercy Airport in KwaZulu Natal,, noting that although bad weather, delays in environmental impact assessments and strikes had put construction behind schedule, the airport would be ready by 2 May 2010. ACSA then highlighted issues around airport security, noting that many players were involved, each with their own powers. The ongoing and embarrassing problem of baggage pilferage was being tackled, and South Africa was below the global average. Fire and Rescue procedures were outlined, and it was stressed that, despite media reports, there was compliance with civil aviation regulations.

Members asked what was being done about baggage theft and mishandling, noting that there were complex procedures which tended to dissuade people from reporting, and queried the  press reports saying that ACSA was not compliant with safety regulations. An explanation was sought for recent events such as SAA crew members’ drug trafficking, and the bomb scare at Cape Town International Airport, also addressing the question of who was responsible for the poor communication to passengers in the case of the bomb threat situation. They questioned whether La Mercy was on track and would be finished in time, what would happen to Durban International Airport, what would be done to allay concerns around fuel supply, and what was being done around other issues such as tour bus parking at airports. The Committee and the delegation agreed that coordination between cities and other stakeholders should be addressed, particularly with regards to timing, information availability and road infrastructure, to ensure travel to and from airports was smooth. Members also questioned the shortage of skills, the steps being taken to rectify this, the cooperation with local governments in cases of emergency procedures, the coordinating procedures, and the need for ACSA to work more closely with the Department of Transport on movement between airports and cities, especially in relation to the 2010 teams. Members further commented that there had been a problem during the Confederations Cup of over-booking of flights, there were negative implications from the drug-trafficking incident involving airline crew, and that it would be necessary to look at whether some airlines should not be establishing flights to rural areas, which would implement socio-economic upliftment aims of Government. Members further noted that it would be important to establish liaison between this Committee, the Department and the Portfolio Committee on Energy around fuel.

Meeting report

2010 FIFA World Cup: Readiness of airports
The Chairperson noted that the new Portfolio Committee needed to understand the workings, mandate and challenges involved in preparing for 2010. Stakeholders should focus not only on host cities but other municipalities identified as base camps. There were challenges related to airport expansions that were worrying the Committee. She also called on the media to inform the public, rather than sensationalise and editorialise, the issues.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) Briefing
Ms Monhla Hlahla, Managing Director, Airports Company South Africa, gave an overview of the company and introduced the other presenters. ACSA was responsible for 89% of civil aviation in South Africa, including the major airports. Because of the nature of the 2010 World Cup, aviation would be central. Challenges included those of seat capacity, ensuring efficient services, ensuring that normal business was not frustrated, and security. A large challenge would be to take into consideration the capacity needs not only of 2010, but the long term economic requirements of the airports. It was important to focus on the problem of fuel supply, as the demand would be high in 2010 and a shortage could cause embarrassment. She noted that the reports by ACSA would cover the requested topics of Aviation Security, Fire and Rescue, and the Progress of La Mercy Airport.

Mr John Neville, Group Executive: Aviation Services, ACSA, gave a short progress report on the construction of La Mercy Airport. Construction was some days behind because of bad weather, delays in issuing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and labour strikes, but would be completed by 2 May 2010. Large increases in construction prices over this period had pushed the cost to R6.7 billion.

Mr Jason Tshabalala, Head of Security: OR Tambo International Airport, ACSA, gave an overview of aviation security. It was important to note that many players were involved, such as the police, immigration authorities or ACSA security staff, and each had their own powers. ACSA was compliant with United Nations standards and recommended practices. One embarrassing problem was the ongoing problem of baggage pilferage, but statistics showed the country had fallen below the global average.

Ms Hlahla and Mr Dean Cloete, General Manager, ACSA, discussed Fire and Rescue procedures. Press articles had given the impression that ACSA did not meet safety requirements. Audits were conducted to assess compliance with civil aviation regulations, which showed that ACSA was compliant with these. Over the company’s 16-year history much had been improved. Ms Hlahla invited the Committee to visit the airport structures to see this, and to better understand airport safety procedures.

Ms N Ngele (ANC) asked whether anything had been done about domestic theft, where possessions would be taken out of passengers’ bags, or where objects left behind in airports disappeared, apparently without anyone seeing anything. Secondly she pointed out that the mishandling and damage of luggage was a problem that could make the company unpopular.

The Chairperson added to Ms Ngele’s question, asking why airport staff always asked whether her baggage had been locked. This made it seem that others had the right to open an unlocked bag.

Ms Hlahla said that South Africa needed to become more efficient so that the economy could grow, thereby supporting households economically. A theft was a national problem that affected all South Africans, as it represented a violation of personal space. Passengers could assist in stamping out the problem by locking their bags. A broader campaign should be launched so that no South Africans would allow stolen goods into their homes. Another problem was that although ACSA tracked luggage, and could pinpoint when a breach occurred, passengers often did not bother to report theft. Mishandled baggage was a problem that also came down to a human element. This was a global problem. Again, passengers often did not complain because it was seen to be an arduous process, although they might not appreciate that complaining would help to prevent it in future. ACSA had tried to make this easier, but could try to do more to enable passengers to complain. Other airports had similar systems and it was possible to liaise with them to look after passengers. State security agencies should also help to do this.

Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) said that it was a long process to lay a complaint, especially when a passenger had been travelling through several airports and could not pinpoint where something had gone missing. This might be one reason that people did not complain. She asked how many people had been charged and fired by ACSA specifically, as she felt that there could not be indefinite reliance upon statements about ‘national problems’.

The Chairperson agreed that theft was a social problem and that the community had a responsibility to play a role in reducing crime. She asked for clarification on the relationship between the airports and the companies in charge of baggage handling, asking if it was possible to identify where the problems came in, and whether handlers were outsourced IF so, he asked whether the airport or the outsourced company was to blame for such problems, noting that ACSA needed to get to the source of the problem in order to fix it. She also stressed that the media should take note that this problem was being managed, as indicated by the statistics, and the issue should not be blown out of proportion.

Mr Anwar Abdul Gany, Chief Director: Civil Aviation, Department of Transport, commented that there had been an enormous increase in international carriers coming into the country, from 12 in 1994, to 72 in 2009. This meant a phenomenal growth in the demand for expertise and staff numbers. It had been a challenge to manage these numbers. ACSA had inherited many of the handlers, and the fact that there were few controls in place to manage these people. ACSA tackled this problem two or three years ago by embarking on a comprehensive tender process. An evaluation exercise had been put in place to determine what mechanisms should be part of the licences for ground handlers. ACSA contracted ground handler companies to move baggage, direct aircraft or provide water and there were stringent mechanisms to ensure companies were compliant with regulations. In 2007 these licences came into place.

Mr Gany said that domestic theft was an international problem and was not unique to South Africa. The problem was greater for international travellers, as they were unlikely to return to a country where their luggage had been tampered with just to lay a complaint, as legislation required. The new Civil Aviation Act, Section 138, specifically addressed baggage. According to that section, any member of airport staff who opened a bag or had a bag in an unauthorised place could be arrested, thereby putting the onus on companies rather than passengers to lay a criminal charge. When the Act was passed this would ensure a more rapid decline in baggage theft.
Mr Gany said that the chance of a bag being damaged was very small. However, because of the huge number of bags being moved, and because there was a manual human element involved, damage would sometimes happen, but this was unlikely to be intentional. Furthermore, staff were trained to ask whether bags were locked, along with other questions such as whether the passenger had packed his/her own bag. This was partly to help identify suspicious characters in an era of global terrorism.
The Chairperson said that the delegation was responding in a way that allowed the Committee to understand the issues and how these were being dealt with. She stressed that they should communicate and work together to overcome problems, such as needing more resources. The Committee did not intend to be antagonistic when it asked such questions.

Mr S Farrow (DA) directed several questions to Mr Neville. He asked whether there would be enough time for a dummy run at La Mercy. Secondly he asked whether the project was sustainable, as the new escalation costs amounted to almost R1 billion, and where this funding would be recovered from in the future, and what the model of the report was dictating.  Thirdly, he asked how fuel delivery would be handled. At Durban International, the refinery was adjacent to the airport, but fuel would have to be shipped across the city to La Mercy. Fourthly, he asked if there were sufficient aircraft companies to utilise the new airport. Finally, he asked what would be done with Durban International, and if it would become obsolete.

Mr Neville replied that though the project had always been on a tight schedule, he was very confident that it would be finalised on time. ACSA had employed some of the best consultants in the world, and contactors had employed the best in the industry. Pre trials would start on time in November, and the airport would be operational, as planned, on 2 May 2010.

Mr Neville said the anticipated fuel demand for La Mercy was 25 road tankers per day. Discussions were under way to find alternative systems of transportation, such as railway lines. He pointed out that La Mercy would use 40 % of the fuel used by Cape Town International at that time, which was supplied by road tankers. Fuel transportation was not a big issue, but one that was nevertheless being monitored to maximise efficiency.

Mr Neville noted that Durban was a constrained airport that was surrounded by communities, natural obstacles and man-made obstacles. Expansion of that airport in order to sustain anticipated growth would have had a huge impact on local communities, and even then would have been constrained by other obstacles, which would have given it a limited lifespan. The site of La Mercy was more sustainable.

Ms Hlahla said that sustainability was also about the balance sheet. Funding was a constraint, as ACSA could only be funded on an economic regulatory model. Airport tax needed to be increased to cover the costs of building infrastructure, as only a small percentage went to this. Infrastructure built over the previous three years was done at a time when capital costs had been rising hugely, but despite this no relief had been provided, and deadlines could not be altered. When the economy picked up again, traffic would increase and ACSA would need increased funds to deal with this as well as pay back its bank loans. Investing in infrastructure was good for the economy, since it was by relieving the balance sheet that the future could be sustained.

Ms Hlahla would appreciate efforts taken by government and Parliament to ensure that the transfer from the Durban International Airport site would be smooth. She understood that the site was a strategic one for the Department because of its location in the Durban basin. The costs involved were unfortunate, but necessary. It was a comfort to know that the capacity being built at La Mercy would be sustainable for a while. Economic growth required an increase in traffic and ACSA had provided for this. Other countries should be looked at to determine how this traffic would be attracted. This was in order to ensure that the Department did not sit with assets that were too large.

Mr Gany said that the previous Portfolio Committee during the last Parliament had had a briefing on capacity, including traffic. In 2006 this Committee had approved a strategy to increase capacity ahead of demand. Capacity had been increased over 100% since then. In air services agreements concluded with various countries, entry points had been identified. For example, Durban would be an entry point for a certain defined number of frequencies. Different countries around the world, such as the Middle East, had been approached to route their aircrafts to Durban. An increase in capacity would encourage such countries to do so.

Mr Farrow asked whether La Mercy would be a niche airport for certain goods or services, or whether it would be used for a mixture of services. Secondly, he asked how ACSA planned to recover funds. Since ACSA got most of its return from rentals and the airport’s retail sector, and since consultants planned to maximise returns, the demands of passenger movement might be sidelined. He asked what space would be allocated to these services during 2010. For example, at Cape Town International, it was difficult to tell where coaches would park or how this would be handled. He requested only a general comment, as he had many more detailed questions that he could ask at a later stage.

Ms Hlahla said that the parking was the least of ACSA’s worries. There was a model for all teams and fans where buses would use different exits. ACSA had had to plan for 2010 by taking into account that it would have to facilitate normal business. Such matters as routing systems, ranks for world cup passengers, separate VIP transport and departure to and from stadiums had been planned for. ACSA would be working in partnership with the City of Cape Town, and other local authorities, to coordinate bus transport from the airport.

Ms Hlahla emphasised that because of the way at ACSA was regulated, the tariffs paid by passengers and airlines were reduced by analytical innovations. ACSA was constantly finding new ways so that it would not have to rely on tariffs to reduce the costs. She reassured the Committee that the logistics of the roads around Cape Town were under control, and that airport layouts and road alignment would be very functional.

Mr Cloete admitted that there could be challenges ahead in terms of layout and design of land. Around Cape Town Airport it was difficult to see the full picture, as work was still in progress. The surrounding road networks were not an ACSA design but had been created in collaboration with the provinces, as was the Rapid Transport System. For the first time it had been possible to separate primary and secondary road systems – the former for civil use and the latter for support systems and airport traffic – so there would be no conflict between the two sectors and transport would be more convenient and efficient. It had been well planned.

Mr Farrow referred to a drug-smuggling incident that happened at South African Airways (SAA). He asked what this company were doing wrong so as to lose the credibility it had formerly had. He also asked why ACSA did not use more dogs, like other countries, as this was a simple way to check each passenger. He also asked who was in charge in cases such as the bomb threat in February at Cape Town International, after which he received a 10 page letter from angry passengers who had been moved around without being communicated with. It was a problem that the different security entities operated in isolation. In that case blame fell on the airport itself. Passengers wanted to feel safe.

Mr Tshabalala replied that dogs were just one aspect of safety measures, and that the best technology was used. A staggering number of people came into the country every day. 20 000 bags were handled every day at OR Tambo Airport, and using dogs would slow this process. Different units, such as detectives or explosive units, ensured that there was enough capacity to deal with interference. Again, there was an unavoidable element of human error, as screeners might not identify elements in luggage. At some point bags were loaded manually and a human factor came in. Some airlines had cameras to deal with this but many did not, although airports themselves did. The human error factor was unfortunate but also a global problem, as was the general increase in drug trafficking.

Ms Hlahla added that she also liked the idea of using more dogs, but had learnt that the production process was onerous. The police themselves had a backlog and supply was limited, but ACSA would try to access some, as much could be identified from the dogs.

Mr Tshabalala said that each entity at an airport played a different role, and the Airport Security Committee met regularly to look at the system as a whole. Emergency plans dictated who played what role at the time.

Mr Cloete commented on the bomb threat, noting that the incident in February was outside the norm. The person called more than once – which in the end helped to identify him – and so impacted more than one flight. This made it more complex to manage, but stakeholders did as best they could on the ground. It was always possible to learn from real situations, and this had occurred here.

Ms Hlahla said that the question of who played what role was up to the Portfolio Committee, since she noted that not all of ACSA property was actually under ACSA control, since other entities, such as South African Revenue Services (SARS) could declare any area a customs area, for example. Whilst they were coordinating well, it must be borne in mind that more efficiency could be achieved if the parties did not try to establish “own” areas. Perhaps policy could have been better. Having one security body, like some other countries, may make a crisis easier to handle, because one person would be in charge. However, the partnership between different entities also worked, perhaps even better. New parties, such as the new Department of Police, would also become involved. In South Africa, ACSA would be called upon to answer for problems such as baggage pilferage, which, in other countries, would be the responsibility of the airlines. Efficiency was a matter for all players to consider and work together on. Partnership was the current model.

Mr Farrow said his point was that if there was a local Security Committee, even if it was comprised of different agents, who was the Chairperson, and would that individual be responsible for communicating outcomes and decisions taken to the passengers affected. If not, then he queried why this was not so.

Ms Hlahla said that happened at a smaller level. In that instance, different government agencies were managing the information because it was a crime scene. Ideally the Chairperson of the Security Committee would manage and pull together such information. ACSA at that point had facilitated rather than managed, as the legislation did not say that such agencies had to listen to ACSA.

Mr Gany clarified that although ACSA held the Chair position, there were different processes for different government entities. In situations such as the bomb threat at Cape Town International, government entities concentrated not on customer service but on the security of all people at the airport. Those on the aircraft might well have been suspects, so security had to play a heartless role to secure the safety of everybody. Customer satisfaction was definitely subservient to safety.

Mr Farrow thanked ACSA for giving him access to the confidential information he had requested on Fire and Rescue. Press reports had revealed that despite ACSA’s assurances that they were compliant with regulations, the shortage of skills was a problem. Since service was 24 hours and taken in shifts, it was important for all staff to have the necessary skills. He hoped that the training programmes would correct this shortage, which had also been confirmed by an audit. He asked for assurance that there would be enough people and skills to meet requirements.

Ms Hlahla said she took such comments seriously, as she herself was liable to be jailed in the case of non-compliance with safety regulations. While ACSA had personnel shortages in some areas, it was recruiting to fill these posts. The press reports were unfortunate, as they failed to contextualise the conditions under which ACSA operated. The rescue teams might have experience in putting out fires, for example, but might not be certificated for this, as City personnel would be. She assured Members that ACSA was compliant, and that ACSA’s recruitment strategy was a robust one. ACSA had looked at areas where performance could be enhanced, and Fire and Rescue was one of them. The core of the staff complaint about the recruitment strategy arose from the history, and the Security and Fire and Rescue departments needed to be repositioned structurally. They had enough staff, and although some may only have had three to four years experience, this experience was good. Staff underwent intense training and she was confident they met the airports’ needs.

Mr Farrow said that local governments played a major role as airports were situated in specific environments. He asked how closely associated ACSA was to these in terms of emergency procedure.

Ms Hlahla agreed that airports did not exist in isolation but were part of the community. Safety exercises were performed to make sure local emergency services could respond to crises, as a plane crash could happen anywhere. Local authorities were an important partner and needed to know what was expected of them.

The Chairperson said that some cities would be classified as host cities in 2010. She asked what the state of preparedness was, in terms of coordination between cities.

Ms Hlahla said that at that stage ACSA had engaged mainly with the cities where the airports were. She agreed that the parties had an obligation to understand timing and coordination to understand what it would take to move from the airport to various destinations. She agreed that ACSA should work more closely with the Department of Transport (DOT) and that they should start to think about coordination and plans to engage with partners to make it a priority.

The Chairperson urged ACSA to do so. In each province cities were identified as practising venues and had been allocated funds to be developed. Cities needed to interact with each other, with the DOT and with the Department of Sport to understand the needs of teams. Airports were important, as airport safety, flight venues, transport needs and travelling distances, road safety and practising venue safety all influenced where teams or visitors would stay. The coaches, rather than FIFA, decided this. Teams would not necessarily stay in host cites. Road infrastructure was therefore also important.

Ms Hlahla said ACSA would focus on the areas for which it was responsible, but agreed that the challenge of coordination would need to be addressed. If the DOT wanted ACSA to do more, more funds would need to be allocated for such a purpose.

Mr Gany said that the new Portfolio Committee should understand that the DOT had set up an aviation task team for the purpose of gearing partners towards 2010 preparation. This would focus on a 20 km area around airports, as well as identifying primary and secondary airports, to understand how infrastructure issues would impact where teams would stay. FIFA had been contacted and put on notice, so that the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company, the mandated company that handled slot coordination, could manage traffic in the skies. FIFA should get the teams to identify at which municipality they wanted to base themselves. This needed to be done so that air congestion could be managed, as air traffic would triple during that eight-week period. Only then could plans be made for particular airports. He agreed with the Chairperson that this matter should be speeded up.

The Chairperson emphasised that it was not the Local Organising Committee that decided where teams should stay. The Federation chose the practising venues, and this decision was influenced by conditions and availability of the airports, roads, hotels and so on. At district level it was difficult to get this information, particularly around the airports. Districts that had this information would attract visitors. The provinces were marketing themselves separately, and this strategy required the readiness of the airports.

The Chairperson said that a few issues remained, but she did not want a response to them now. Firstly, during the Confederations Cup, many flights were over-booked, which negatively affected the movement of ordinary people. Secondly, drug trafficking, such as the incident involving SAA crew members, was not only a legal issue but a matter of national mindset. Such instances were an embarrassment for the country. It was the responsibility of the community, rather than just ACSA, to work to change this mindset.  

The Chairperson said that South Africa was comprised of two worlds. Many people would like to shorten the time taken to travel from a rural area to a major city. Cheaper airlines used the same routes as expensive airlines, which meant they were not meeting the needs of the poor. Socio-economic transformation would need to revisit this. She asked whether it was sustainable or productive to have rural areas that could only be accessed by smaller aircraft. All modes of transport should be accessible to all. She asked how ACSA related to and implemented government policies aimed at improving socio-economic conditions of the poor, and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) policies. Sourcing services from co-operatives who supported BBBEE would narrow the gap between the first and second economies.

The Chairperson highlighted that fuel shortages were a major problem, and suggested that a joint sitting of the DOT, this Portfolio Committee and the Energy Portfolio Committee be facilitated. Parliament and industry needed to be sensitised to this issue. She asked that any challenges be brought to the Committee’s attention if support was required. She thanked the delegation for their presentations and for their cooperative way of responding to questions posed, and thanked Members for their useful questions.

The meeting was adjourned.

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