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Aerotropolis KZN becoming a major trade and business hub in Sub-Saharan Africa

Posted On Thursday, 06 June 2013 15:41 Published by Commercial Property News
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Growing numbers of firms and service providers are gathering around airports. 

Aerotropolis KZNThe Airport Cities World Conference and Exhibition for 2013 has come and gone where Dube Tradeport Corporation unveiled plans for Aerotropolis KZN.  South Africa’s bigger player on this field, O R Tambo International, had to share some of the limelight as ambitious plans were unveiled for South Africa’s third biggest airport.

The term Aerotropolis has its origins in the late 1930’s and mainstreamed in 2000 by academic and air commerce expert Dr. John D. Kasarda. One definition has it as: an urban plan in which the layout, infrastructure, and economy is centred on an airport, existing as an airport city. In September 2011, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality officially announced its intention to transform the municipality into a functioning Aerotropolis with OR Thambo at its hub sending local real estate soaring.

The logic behind the Aerotropolis concept is that airports offer connectivity to suppliers and customers across the globe. Many of the businesses around airports can often be more dependent on distant suppliers or customers than on those locally. The Aerotropolis encompasses a range of commercial facilities supporting both aviation-linked businesses and the millions of air travellers who pass through the airport annually.

Growing numbers of firms and service providers are gathering around airports. The Aerotropolis is emerging as strategic urban destination where visitors and locals can conduct business, network, shop, even eat, sleep and play with no need to travel more than a quarter of an hour from the airport. With 7.5 million passengers annually, Aerotropolis KZN plans to be one such destination and has already set its course.

Aerotropolis KZN is becoming a major trade and business hub in Sub-Saharan Africa right on the doorstep of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest city and primary manufacturing centre, Durban.

What surfaces here is a highly competitive business operating environment, with the entire necessary infrastructure in place. All of which gives the area an advantage in accelerating business efficiencies and enhancing the global supply chain. All this potentially sending local commercial property skyrocketing.

Aerotropolis KZN stipulates that there is a 60-year Master Plan and expresses the belief that airport city is “poised to become South Africa’s business gateway to South Africa, Southern Africa... and the world.” Admittedly there are some components that set Aerotropolis KZN apart, arguably affording it a competitive advantage over other South African and African destinations.

  • It is a freight-orientated development with world-class cargo facilities, managed by a single handler and considered the most secure in Africa;
  • It is being purpose-built, in particular that which is within a radius of 7,5km of Dube TradePort;
  • It seems that it is one of few such developments around the world utilising a Greenfield site, with an additional 32 000 acres, ready for planning and development.

Given its unique location between two of Africa’s major seaports of – Durban and Richards Bay – its 32 000-acre ‘Greenfield’ site and the longest airport runway at sea-level in South Africa  (3.7km), capable of accommodating the largest aircraft in the world, King Shaka made its presence felt at the Airport Cities conference.

Finally the development provides for public and private cooperation, co-ordination and alignment with Government planning, ensuring both direct and indirect involvement in its development and growth by not only the Provincial Government, but also attendant Local Government structures, organised business and the private sector.

It’s worth noting that such a strong public-private relationship is rare in the growth of aerotropolis developments anywhere else in the world.

A criticism levelled at aerotropolises in general has been the belief that there is an overstating of the number and types of goods that travel by air. While many types of high-value goods, like electronics, tend to travel by air, larger, bulkier items like cars and grain do not. Those who point this out suggest that the relationship between seaports, airports, and rail facilities should be studied in more depth.

“Airports will shape economic activity and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th, and seaports in the 18th.” So Dr John Kasarda, says.

Whatever the case may be, Aerotropolis KZN seems very much on track with private sector and government backing. The knock-on effect on local commercial property is worth watching.

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