O.R. Tambo Airport (until 1994 Jan Smuts International Airport, between 1994 and 2006 Johannesburg Airport) also Johannesburg International Airport, is an international airport near Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa. The area of the airport is 1600 hectares.
The busiest airport in Africa, it is the hub of Africa’s largest airline, South African Airways, as well as numerous smaller carriers. It also functions as the airport for the capital city of Pretoria.
Location and transport connections
O.R. Tambo International Airport is located beyond the territory of the metropolitan municipality of City of Johannesburg, near its eastern edge, in the area of the city of Kempton Park. To the south of the airport is the town of Benoni; both are part of the metropolitan municipality of Ekurhuleni.
Via the road network, the airport site is accessed primarily by the N12 national highway, which runs east-west along the southern periphery of the airport. At the Rietfontein interchange, the R21 regional highway branches off to the north, providing access and egress for motor traffic at the main entrance and continuing on to intersect the N1 to Pretoria. Another regional road, the R24, approaches the airport from the west. It branches off the N12 at the Meadowbrook junction in Germiston. It creates a direct connection to Johannesburg’s Central Business District in a westerly direction via Albertina Sisulu Road.
From the Johannesburg metropolitan area, a route of the Gautrain public transport system leads to the airport site.
Johannesburg’s public bus system serves the airport (JNB Airport Transportation). It is operated under the Rea Vaya label. To supplement this, there is the option of arriving and departing by minibuses operated by private operators.
The airport was built in 1952 as Jan Smuts Airport near the town of Kempton Park (East Rand). In the same year, the jet age was ushered in here when the first commercial flight of the De Havilland DH.106 Comet landed here, coming from London Heathrow Airport.
Jan Smuts Airport was also the test airport for the Concorde type during the 1970s – specifically to assess flight performance at high altitude airports. During the 1980s, many countries blocked economic relations because of apartheid, so many airlines stopped serving the airport.
Since 1996, the airport has been the busiest airport on the continent in terms of aircraft movements, replacing Cairo International Airport. In 2016, it handled more than 20 million passengers. The airport is likewise ranked among the 100 busiest in the world.
The South African government renamed the airport O.R. Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) in October 2006. Oliver R. Tambo was the leader of the African National Congress in the 1980s and thus one of the heads of the anti-apartheid movement.
The new International Pier and Domestic Terminal were completed in 2007. By the end of 2009, the airport had been modernized to accommodate the rush expected for the 2010 World Cup.
Overview of terminal buildings
The main airlines operating here are South African Airways (Terminals A and B), Air France (Terminal A), KLM (Terminal A), Emirates (Terminal A) and more than 40 foreign airlines, including Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines and British Airways. Domestic flights from the Domestic Airport are operated by South African Express.
Due to its altitude of 1694 m above sea level, the air pressure and density at the airport is lower. This is especially problematic when air temperatures are high. Because of the lower air density, aircraft require a longer takeoff distance for the same weight than at lower altitude airports (see also explanation under Hot and High). A flight to New York City with a Boeing 747-400 or an Airbus A340-300 required a stopover in Lagos, Dakar or Ilha do Sal for refueling, because the runways are too short for fully fueled aircraft of these types. Since the Airbus A340-600 was flotted by South African Airways, the route can also be served non-stop.
There are two parallel asphalt runways (running north-south, 3400 m and 4400 m long). A third runway is soon to be built to intersect these.
The airport is also regularly served by Airbus A380 aircraft.
There is one domestic airport in the whole area, the Domestic Airport. Domestic flights depart from this airport. Between the international and domestic areas there are passport and customs controls, as with any entry and exit at a national border.
O.R. Tambo International Airport also handles cargo flights for numerous companies, such as Cargolux, Lufthansa Cargo and Martinair.
On October 20, 1957, a Vickers Viscount 806 manufactured by Vickers (aircraft registration G-AOYF) was landed so extremely hard at Johannesburg-Jan Smuts Airport during approach tests that the right main landing gear collapsed and the aircraft ended up on the right side of the runway, only 480 meters from the beginning of the runway. All ten occupants survived. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
On March 1, 1988, an Embraer EMB 110 (ZS-LGP) leased by Comair Limited from Bop Air broke up in mid-air after a bomb explosion on a flight from Phalaborwa to Johannesburg minutes before landing. All 17 people on board were killed. A passenger who had taken out a large life insurance policy shortly beforehand was presumably the perpetrator (see also Comair Limited Flight 206).
On November 3, 2001, a Reims-Cessna F406 operated by GJ Air (ZS-OIG), which was scheduled to fly to Eros Airport in Namibia, crashed shortly after takeoff from Johannesburg Airport. All three people on board were killed. The accident investigation revealed a loss of control along the roll and pitch axes caused by a 16 percent overload and improper weight distribution. Other significant operational violations were found: Airworthiness and operator certificates had expired, the operating limit of the engines had been exceeded, the cargo was unsecured, and a passenger was being carried even though neither a seat nor a restraint system was on board for him (see also Flight Accident of a Reims-Cessna F406 at Johannesburg Airport).
In the north of the City of Johannesburg, not far from Diepsloot and Sandton, there is the privately operated Lanseria International Airport. Domestic flights land at Rand Airport in Germiston.