Feb 22, 2017: Industry estimates suggest that in 2016 airlines transported 52 million metric tonnes of goods, representing more than 35 percent of global trade by value but less than 1 percent of world trade by volume. That is equivalent to $6.8 trillion worth of goods annually, or $18.6 billion worth of goods every day.

As such, the air cargo sector also plays a significant role in the economic and subsequent social progress of a country, and numerous cities around the world are using their airports as engines to drive economic development and growth.

For a few years now, Africa has been viewed as a window of opportunity with a great deal of untapped potential for trade and business. However, what the continent requires very much is an infrastructure that can prop up the aviation industry in general, and in particular the air cargo industry, to fuel the economic growth of the continent.

South Africa, with Johannesburg leveraging the opportunities presented to it by the OR Tambo International Airport, one of the African airports managed by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), has shown itself to be the leader amongst African nations in developing these capabilities, redefining the future of aviation on the continent.

The City of Ekurhuleni - a region of Johannesburg wherein the OR International Airport lies – presented the approved Aerotropolis Master Plan in November 2015 at an investor forum, which was held in partnership with ACSA as a strategic partner. The plan details 21 catalytic projects to be delivered within the next 25 years, which will drive economic growth and expansion. Of these projects, five are closely related to the OR Tambo International Airport and its operations.

At the core of the vision of the Ekurhuleni's aerotropolis, is the desire to build prosperity for the city and the region based on job creation. As the aerotropolis grows and prospers, so too should the citizens of Ekurhuleni benefit from the creation of new jobs, the expansion of social infrastructure, and an improvement in the standard of living for all.

The key focus will be on using inter-modal connectivity as the basis for generating economic development, particularly for time-sensitive sunrise businesses such as perishables, bio-life sciences, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, innovation, information and communication technology (ICT), research and development, among others. This would require an innovative use of land, logistics, human resources, investment capital, innovation and entrepreneurship to create connections with new markets and sources of revenue.

"The value proposition of this decision will be one that enhances economic growth, reduces business costs, encourages skills development, further integrates the public transportnetwork, integrated spatial planning and improves logisticsnetworks and handling," says BongiwePityi, General Manager of OR Tambo International Airport.

She further states: "A governance structure, which includes the Gauteng Province, City of Ekurhuleni, Airports Company South Africa and various other key strategic partners, is in place to monitor and track the implementable sections of the catalytic projects."

The global air cargo community has come together in Johannesburg for the fourth edition of the biennial trade fair, AIR CARGO AFRICA (ACA) 2017, organised by STAT Media Group.

The exhibition and conference takes place at the Casino Convention Resort, Emperors Palace in the City of Ekurhuleni from February 21 to 23, with the theme of "Airfreight in Africa – Building tomorrow's market today" and will witness participation from the global air cargo community at large to explore and tap into the enormous potential within the emerging markets of the African continent.

For Pityi, the ACA 2017 event presents an opportunity to demonstrate long-term commitment to providing the infrastructure needed to support the sector's growth.

"While economic conditions have put the air cargo industry under immediate pressure, we still need to ensure that we are prepared for that point in the business cycle when things turn up again.

"Right now our cargo facilities are running at close to capacity, so we have started to engage with the sector about its infrastructure development needs," says Pityi.

She adds that, while several important developments are in the advanced planning stage, ACSA needs to hear more from the sector about its particular requirements. For example, several stakeholders have expressed a need for expanded cooling facilities which are essential for the pharmaceutical industry.

"We have major capital expenditure in mind with regard to a midfield cargo terminal, but there is also going to be significant development of the western precinct of OR Tambo International Airport. This development will create opportunities for a variety of players in the air cargo value chain to exploit the burgeoning aerotropolis around the airport," she says.

Two major landholdings are currently under way at the airport.An additional 187,000 square metresof development rightshas the potential to exceed R4billion in investment, and the proclamation of the first phase of 43 ha of industrial zoned land is set to be completed during 2017.

The ACA conference and exhibition is returning to Ekurhuleni for the third time consecutively. PriyoPatra, director at STAT Media Group explains why: "Though ACA had its inaugural edition in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011, for all subsequent editions in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017, Johannesburg was our choice for the venue. The primary reason for us to choose Johannesburg and come back to this city every alternate year is the air cargo industry ecosystem the city provides us with and a venue that almost offers all conveniences under one roof. Around the venue, we have all key stakeholders of air cargo industry present and it becomes so convenient for them to participate in our events. Secondly, we have a very vibrant support from South Africa Airways (SAA),ACSA and local offices of global companies."

He further points out that ACA brings more than 80 exhibitors together from around the globe, including some of the best airports, airlines and air cargo service providers of the world.

"There are chief executives of global air cargo companies attending the event and participating in conference sessions that discuss how to unlock Africa's civil aviation potential. Besides there are close to 3,000 aviation and air cargo industry professionals visiting the trade exhibition. Therefore, any city wanting to become truly global and cosmopolitan would always seek external investments and partnerships. Essentially, the event becomes a meeting ground for like-minded businesses to meet and potentially become partners in creating Johannesburg as the aviation and logistics hub," he says.

South African Airways Cargo is the key sponsor of the event for the third time.Worldwide Flight Services (WFS), Africa Flight Services (AFS) and Swissport Cargo Services as its platinum partners also support the event. While ACSA and National are gold partners, Liege Airport is the silver partner. Other partners include Etihad Cargo, Cologne Bonn Cargo and Frankfurt Hahn Airport.

In addition, ACA 2017 willhonour the best air cargo companies with The STAT Trade Times International Award for Excellence in Air Cargo, an integral part of the event. The award winners will be announced on February 22 during a gala award night at the Barnyard Theatre.

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