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What it means to be the biggest airport in South Africa

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What it means to be the biggest airport in South Africa

The OR Tambo International Airport is the biggest airport in South Africa, and it receives and sends off millions of passengers each year.

If you have flown to or out of South Africa in the last couple of years, chances are, you passed through OR Tambo International Airport (albeit, very briefly) during your travels.

Is OR Tambo International Airport still the biggest airport in South Africa?

However, there have been announcements that South Africa’s Airports Company (ACSA) is planning to invest the biggest chunk of cash that it has forked out since the 2010 World Cup to develop our local airport infrastructure and the plans to build a brand new airport to service the South African Winelands region.

That being said, you may  wonder whether the OR Tambo International Airport is still one of the country’s biggest shining stars.

Fortunately, while there has been much uncertainty over the last few years about South Africa’s leading airlines, fuel prices and other air traffic-worries, the OR Tambo International Airport still reigns supreme as the biggest, busiest, and most trudged-through airport within the country’s borders.

How big is the OR Tambo International Airport really?

While the size of an airport usually refers to the airport’s capacity to receive and send off passengers rather than the actual, physical size of the airport, OR Tambo International Airport does well in both categories.

The physical size of the OR Tambo International Airport is as follows:

Detail Description
Domestic terminal 90 000 square meters
Central terminal building 110 000 square meters
Parking bays 16 300

The OR Tambo International Airport also actually has longer runways than most other airports in the world, with the longest measuring about 4,418 meters in length. because the airport sits at an elevation of 1,700 metres.

Though there are runways at the Upington Airport and the Mafikeng Airport which measure even longer.

How many airlines fly in and out of OR Tambo International Airport?

There are 7 different airline operators that service the domestic travellers at the OR Tambo International airport, with flights to and from 21 domestic airports in the country.

These operators include Airlink, British Airways by Comair, CemAir, FlySafair,, South African Airlines, South African Express.

But, since OR Tambo International Airport is one of only a few international airports in South Africa, it also serves passengers flying to and from various regional and international destinations, including airports in Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, China, Italy, Egypt, The United Arab Emirates, Amsterdam and many more.

OR Tambo is one of few international airports that truly live up to this title, as it welcomes passengers from all six inhabited continents in the world and services more than half of all the air passengers that pass through South Africa.

How busy is OR Tambo International Airport?

It can be difficult to comprehend just how much air traffic an airport handles on a given day when you are just popping through on the way to catch your flight.

But OR Tambo International Airport has long been hailed the “biggest and busiest” airport in Southern Africa.

According to the data on the ACSA website, OR Tambo International Airport has the capacity to help about 28 million passengers annually. Though in reality, the airport currently only services about 18.6 million passengers per annum.

To put this into perspective, Cape Town International Airport had less than 12 million total arriving and departing passengers during the 2023/2024 financial year and King Shaka International Airport had less than 10 million.

How does OR Tambo International Airport compare to the world’s biggest airports?

While the OR Tambo International Airport has continued to reign supreme within the South African borders, it is a much smaller fish in international waters.

For the last three years, the OR Tambo International Airport came second to the Cairo International Airport in Egypt in the race to be the busiest airport in Africa.

More than 20 million passengers per annum is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But this large number does not even come close to what the traffic is like at the world’s biggest airports, which can be summarized as follows (as of 2022):

Airport Passenger volume
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport 93.7 million passengers
Dallas Fort Worth International Airport 73.4 million passengers
Denver International Airport 69.3 million passengers
Chicago O’Hare International Airport 68.3 million passengers
Dubai International Airport 66.1 million passengers

So, while it seems like the passenger volumes and aircraft movements through the OR Tambo International Airport are slowly reverting to their pre-pandemic levels, this airport still has a long way to go before it can compete with the world’s biggest and busiest airports.