Africa’s Busiest Airport. Audience with Bongiwe Pityi
Africa’s Busiest Airport. Audience with Bongiwe Pityi.
By Donnie Rust
In a recent article, The Lost Executive looked at what new developments were taking shape within Africa’s busiest international airport. Today, we look at what it takes to manage it.
Ms. Pityi joined ACSA in August 2000 and her 17-year record in the aviation industry began in a management role within the landscape of landside and car park operations at Joburg International. She progressed to being the Assistant GM of Durban International, then King Shaka Airport, San Paulo Brazil and finally, she came to O.R Tambo International Airport in 2014, where she has remained firmly in charge ever since.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE AT O.R. TAMBO?
As General Manager of Africa’s busiest airport, my leadership role demands that I drive effective and efficient operations, strategically engage all key stakeholders within the airport community. I also need to communicate clearly with various levels of government and I want to position this airport, through business and route development opportunities, as a key aviation hub that is focused on connectivity both locally, regionally and also internationally.
BUSY. IT SOUNDS BUSY. WHAT IS YOUR TYPICAL DAY LIKE?
Typically, I start working as early as 5am on issues that may need my urgent attention, even before the workday begins. With an extensive key stakeholder community to engage on a routine basis, I find myself in strategic meetings from early in the morning through to sometimes very late at night. Should there be any issues and/or incidences that may occur during my already busy day, then my objective is to prioritise any such issues as a matter of urgency. My typical day does not keep to standard office hours. I am expected to be on hand to deal with any eventuality that may impact on airport operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
EFFICIENCY MUST BE IMPORTANT, SO WHAT PROGRAMMES ARE BEING IMPLEMENTED TO MAKE THE LIVES OF SOUTH AFRICANS AND INTERNATIONAL VISITORS WHO USE O.R TAMBO INTERNATIONAL PASSENGERS EASIER?
Many things. There is a long list. In part, my team and I have instigated rewards and recognition programmes to offer opportunities for SMEs. We work with key governmental departments to prevent the transmission and outbreak of infectious diseases and maintain security and we subscribe to the ACIs Airport Service Quality (ASQ), which is a world-renowned and globally established benchmarking programme measuring passengers’ satisfaction whilst they are travelling through our airport. We are also piloting smart security, which is one of the key projects that will, in the future, create a seamless, less-intrusive and customer-centric approach to security processing.
2017 MARKED 100 YEARS SINCE THE BIRTH OF OLIVER TAMBO. HOW DID THE CELEBRATION GO?
We were and are still truly humbled by this honour. On the 19th October 2017, O.R. Tambo International Airport was the proud host of the historic milestone and a life-sized bronze statue of the struggle stalwart Oliver Reginald Tambo was unveiled at the International Arrivals Hall. The statue unveiling formed part of the O.R. Tambo Centenary celebrations, under the theme, “The Life and Legacy of O.R. Tambo”, which ran until the end of 2017.
The location of the statue is highly significant, as it was to this airport that Oliver Reginald Tambo returned in 1990, after 30 years in exile, finally to be greeted by his own people. He dedicated his life to fighting against apartheid on an international scale and laid the foundation for a free and democratic South Africa.
Speaking at the official event to mark the unveiling, Dali Tambo, son of the late Oliver Reginald Tambo, thanked the management team for supporting the inherent need for the airport to bear his name and for hosting the statue as a key part of South Africa’s heritage. The symbolism of the statue greeting travellers as they land on South African soil means that his name and image will not be forgotten by future generations. As soon as the statue was unveiled, many airport users were already queuing for their moment to embrace the icon and take photos with him.
As a strategic asset that connects Africa to the world, we are truly proud to both bear the name and have the statue of such a great legend located within out International Arrivals Hall.
HOW MANY COMMUTERS USED THE AIRPORT IN THE LAST FINANCIAL YEAR?
Approximately 21 million passengers passed through the O.R Tambo International Airport over the past financial year.
HOW MANY AIRLINE COMPANIES ARE CURRENTLY HOUSED AT OR TAMBO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, BOTH DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL?
We have 50 airlines that operate out of the airport. We’ve also implemented a variety of airport ambiance initiatives to improve passenger experience. These include silent airport movements, smart security and engagements with the Department of Home Affairs to increase staffing levels at Immigration and Passport Control.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT AVIATION AND AIRPORTS IN THE COUNTRY?
It remains a significant contributor to our economy. Research also informs us that countries that invest in inter-modal transport, which includes aviation, attract significant Foreign Direct Investment. It also therefore remains a critical employer of people. As the GM for O.R. Tambo, leading strategic discussions with the Ekurhuleni Municipality on the concept of Aerotropolis is now an immediate focus for me, as well as my team, as the success of this project will be built around OR Tambo. We are very excited about what this project can do for our country, if executed effectively. We also have every confidence in the Ekurhuleni Municipality and Gauteng Province as we work collaboratively and in partnership to turn this Aerotropolis Concept into a reality.
An Aerotropolis is a city that is built around an airport, offering businesses speedy connectivity to their suppliers, customers and enterprise partners both nationally and internationally. It is a new urban format currently developing around many large airports. The Aerotropolis project is one of the flagship projects of the City of Ekurhuleni, which is poised to become the first Aerotropolis in Africa.
STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF OR TAMBO
Being the busiest airport on the continent, thanks to attracting approximately 21 million passengers in 2017, means that we are able to connect people through aviation. We are contributing to our economy, as passengers who fly, do so for a myriad of reasons; work, business opportunities, family and/or personal reasons etc. Connectivity through technology is what contributes to the stimulation of our economy.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE WORLD OF AVIATION?
The speed at which things are needed to be done and what aviation connectivity can do for our country. This is a very fast-paced environment. The passion of the people in this industry is what drives me and my work as a leader is so fulfilling and rewarding in that I have a sense of creating a true legacy.
WHAT IS BEING DONE AT OR TAMBO TO ENSURE THAT GOVERNANCE IS TRANSPARENT AND EFFECTIVE?
As OR Tambo we align and subscribe to Airport Company South Africa’s principles to apply sound governance and remain accountable, in order to reflect our stance as a responsible corporate citizen. AT OR Tambo we subscribe to the principles of the King Code on Corporate Governance for South Africa 2016 in our approach to ethical and accountable governance. This supports our desire to be transparent and adaptable to remain fit for purpose in all of our dealings. This can be seen in our comprehensive ethics value drive programme and strong continuous monitoring of our environment. This is supported by our anonymous tip-off line that the community can call, at any time, to assist us as an organisation to remain accountable.
HOW IS THE AIRPORT BENEFITTING/EMPOWERING SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES?
The airport is empowering the different communities in and around its precinct through a variety of interventions, actioned through an effective Socio-economic Development framework focusing on education, environment, mobility and disability.
WHAT MAKES YOU PROUD?
ACSA has taken important steps in addressing gender and racial prejudice, especially in the past five to eight years, however more needs to be done. Having said this, the organisation has provided me with many opportunities for growth and development. It has offered me an opportunity to lead the relocation of Durban International to King Shaka International as well as lead the Operational Readiness team, for a new set-up of a semi-private terminal in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. I spent two and half years in Brazil working on this project, which did prove very challenging at times but ultimately, it resulted in it being a major success for me the team assigned to the project as well.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF HOLDING THIS ROLE?
The success of the role is inextricably linked to how one manages and leads people. This can become a major challenge if not managed appropriately. I have come to accept that the best and most effective way of getting things done is to provide people with the opportunity to excel.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE JOB?
The fact that each day presents its own set of challenges and rewards. Also, the fact that it is a very fast-paced environment, which requires intense focus on a routine, sustained basis.