Cape Winelands Airport’s big plans: Premier diversion hub, doubling tourist numbers – Nick Ferguson

There is a buzz in Cape Town about the development of the new Cape Winelands Airport near Durbanville with the City Council throwing its weight behind the development. The site for the new Cape Winelands Airport near Durbanville in the Cape has an interesting history as it was chosen and built by the Allied Forces during WWII. After it was required in 2020, the consortium of private owners set out to expand the airport to turn it into a transport hub and springboard for tourism in the region. In an interview with Biznews, the Director of the Cape Winelands Airport Nick Ferguson said they were a step closer to reality with the first phase of the consultation process completed. The Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) has objected to the development. The airport is set to launch its first flights in early 2027, ultimately offering a unique airport experience that includes wine tasting, a vineyard, and an outdoor amphitheatre. He also shared their strategy to initially position Winelands Airport as a cost-effective alternative destination for airlines who are currently burdened with carrying extra fuel when flying to Cape Town because their nearest diversion destination is O.R Tambo, located 2 hours north. This move not only promises financial benefits to airlines but also a significant reduction in carbon emissions. This strategic shift could potentially earn Winelands Airport the title of the World’s Greenest Airport.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:36 – Plans for Cape wineland airport
  • 02:14 – Capetown endorsement
  • 03:03 – Airports history
  • 04:04 – Alternative destination airport
  • 10:27 – Response from airlines
  • 12:10 – Other facilities at the airport 
  • 14:03 – Anchor airline
  • 16:10 – Investors
  • 16:29 – Impact on tourism in the western Cape
  • 17:06 – The team

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Excerpts from the interview

___STEADY_PAYWALL___

First phase consultation completed, breaking ground 2025, scheduled flights 2027

The airport  was built by the Allied Forces in 1943 to protect the coastline of Cape Town. It has four intersecting runways. They were built all in different directions because the aeroplanes at that stage needed to take off and land into the wind. Modern aircraft can handle some crosswind, so the original design isn’t as applicable today.  One of the four runways is 1500 metres and they are all about 90 m wide. Historical photos show bombers stationed on these runways in the 1940s.  It’s a very interesting history and it was in fact built before Cape International Airport. At the time, the Allied Forces could have chosen any location for an airport. After analysing all possible sites, they selected this one. 

We first acquired the airport in 2020, and after three years of planning, we identified opportunities and needs within the aviation industry. This led us to adjust our plans accordingly. We officially went public with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) a month ago, and the first commenting period for the draft scoping report ended on December 8th. This is an initial draft scoping, and as we gather more information on the impact, it will evolve into a scoping report. The impact details have not been released yet, but once they are, there will be further opportunities for comments.

We aim to commence construction in 2025 with the anticipation of our inaugural scheduled flight in early 2027. As an existing airport with a licensed aerodrome, trading facilities, charter services, maintenance organisations, and private planes, we must consider our current operations while undertaking this expansion but we do not have scheduled traffic or passenger planes. Our goal is to introduce our first scheduled flight in 2027.

We will begin with two runways. The main runway will be a Code 4F, measuring 3.5km in length. In addition, we will have a shorter crosswind runway, which is 700m long, primarily for training planes in crosswind conditions. To put it in perspective, a Code F runway can accommodate almost any aircraft, including an A380. For comparison, the current runway at Cape Town is 3200m long.

Plans to become alternative destination or diversion airport

Our model is unique in that we will initially serve as a diversion or alternative destination airport, providing relief for both domestic and international flights. Once established, we aim to build up our own traffic over time.

 Previously, a connection was made between Cape Winelands Airport and Lanseria, but we operate differently from Lanseria. We are a secondary airport like them, but our model is unique. The primary purpose of our airport is to serve as a destination alternate airport.

An airline like Emirates, who is taking off from Dubai, needs to plan their fuel arrangements for that flight. Before they take off, they log their weight, they log how many passengers are on board, how much main fuel they’ve got, and what their reserve fuel is, in case of incidents. The reserve fuel is specifically around a destination alternate fuel.

 If they get to Cape Town International and there’s a problem at Cape Town International and they have to fly somewhere else, it’s logical that they have to have enough fuel to get to the other airport, an alternate airport which has the necessary services and facilities to be able to accommodate that type of plane. In other words, if you’ve got a Boeing 777 out of Dubai, you can’t fly to George because the runway is too short, the pavement strength is not strong enough, etc. 

Huge cost savings for airlines

Every international airline, wide-body airlines, are designating Johannesburg as an alternate and they, in the case of Emirates, would carry 10 tons of fuel. When they take off from Dubai, they are carrying 10 tons of fuel in case there’s a problem at Cape Town. They burn four tons of that fuel of the 10, depending on weather. By the time they get to Cape Town, they’re sitting at a reserve fuel of six tons, because if you carry weight, you burn fuel. 

They burn those four tons, that four tons is in Rand terms, costing them R100,000 a flight. But if they didn’t carry 10 tons of fuel, they would carry 10 tons of payload. Now payload is obviously cargo or passengers. So, that upside is in the region of R1.5 million a flight. So ,there’s a cost and there’s an opportunity cost. And we are saying to the airlines, we will share in this benefit. Let’s share in the benefit. You can take a portion of it and we will take a portion of it

We are in a unique situation in Cape Town due to the amount of traffic we have and the lack of a close, geographically, alternate airport for international flights. This situation does not occur in Europe or America, where there are airports every hundred kilometres or even more frequently.

Redundancy is something that has been overlooked in the past and specifically in South Africa in multiple applications and we’ve learnt one thing is that you need to have some form of backup and that applies to all airports in our region. But that can apply to everything. Eskom being the obvious one.

Aspiration of being the greenest airport in the world 

It’s actually a win-win situation. The cherry on top is that when planes burn extra fuel, they create significant carbon emissions. We aspire to be the greenest airport in the world. We modelled every international airline that flies directly into Cape Town, using data from 2019, before Covid, to establish a reasonable traffic baseline.

We found that there was 110 million kg of extra payload. We can save about 20 to 23 million litres of fuel, which is approximately 19 million kg. We also saved 60 million kg of carbon emissions. The value of these savings to the industry was $60 million, or about R1.2 billion per annum. This is the amount that our airport can effectively save the industry.

Looking for anchor airline 

Rob Hersov is no longer involved; he actually left in March of this year. We bought out his shares. We have a number of funders and interest from local banks, big infrastructure funds, and anchor airlines, mainly out of the Middle East. Airport construction companies, tendering for the job, would put in money, along with sovereign wealth funds. There is actually a lack of infrastructure projects in South Africa. I recently had a meeting with a local company that has a mandate on infrastructure projects, and what they do is focus solely on renewable energy. 

There are limited private opportunities for infrastructure projects to invest in and our project offers an airport but it also has a railway line that connects the two harbours of Cape Town and Saldanha. We are looking at a multi-modal transport facility that essentially links road to rail, train, and industry, and then you can embellish those transport aspects with renewable energy.

We have designated a space for our terminal building, with an adjacent area reserved for a VIP and airline facilities. Our focus is on securing an anchor airline, and we are particularly interested in potential partners from the Middle East. Airlines such as Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, or those with a significant presence in markets like Riyadh are among our considerations. We aim to establish a strategic partnership with a major airline from this region to enhance the prominence and connectivity of our airport.

Off-the-grid electricity, water and sewage

We aim to be off the grid for as many services as possible. Naturally, we will incorporate redundancy measures, such as a backup Eskom connection, to ensure reliability in case of failures. However, our fundamental goal is to operate entirely off the grid, utilising sources like solar energy and a bio-digester. Specifically, we are planning a one-megawatt biodigester project and 7 to 8 megawatts of solar power to initiate our sustainable energy initiatives.

Water has historically posed challenges, and although it is not currently a pressing issue, we anticipate potential future concerns. To address this, we plan to be off the grid for water consumption. Our stormwater will be collected and stored in a quarry— one of the plots of land we acquired. This stored stormwater will be treated and repurposed for irrigation, toilet flushing, and other secondary uses. Our primary potable water source will be bore water, treated through a filtration mechanism. Effectively, we will be off the grid for water, power, and sewage, each with appropriate backup measures to ensure continuous operations.

Thousands of jobs will be created, estimates of 5 million passengers by 2050

The positive impact of this project extends beyond the environment. Our Phase One capital expenditure (CapEx) is estimated to be around R7 billion, focusing on the runway, a small terminal building, security measures, fencing, lighting, and navigational aids. This initial investment serves as the foundation for a much larger project that will include additional features such as hotels and tenants. According to American analyses that consider the multiplier effect of airports on the economy, our investment is expected to have double the value on the economy. While our initial phases involve R7 billion, the ultimate project will likely reach R20 to R30 billion, which, considering its impact, is a significant investment. This not only represents a substantial economic contribution but also has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs, illustrating the far-reaching positive effects of our endeavour.

An independent study conducted by NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultant) forecasts that by 2050, we will accommodate 5 million passengers. To put this in perspective, Cape Town International currently handles 10 million passengers per annum. The region’s total passenger count is projected to double from 10 million to 20 million. Our passenger count will increase from 0 to 5 million, while Cape Town International’s will rise from 10 to 15 million. By 2050, we will hold 25% of the market share. In other words, we will accommodate one in every two new passengers.

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