The History of Rand Airport

The construction of Rand Airport started in 1920 and in 1931 it was officially opened as an international airport in Germiston. The main terminal building was designed to resemble an aeroplane when seen from the air. On 21st December 1931 the first flight of Imperial Airways arrived from London. Rand Airport, jointly owned by the Germiston City Council, Rand Gold Refinery and Elandsfontein Estates was officially opened by the then Governor General of the Union of South Africa, the Earl of Clarendon. The airport’s close proximity to Johannesburg enhanced its importance and in 1935 SAA moved its headquarters and maintenance division from Durban to Rand Airport.

The airport served as South Africa’s main international airport until 1948 when due to the development in international travel and the increase in passenger numbers, the runways could not accommodate the bigger aircraft like the Avro York Aircraft and airlines started to relocate to Palmietfontein Airport with its longer runways. During World War II new airports were planned for Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, but Rand Airport would continue to serve as an international airport through to the end of the war in 1945. During the war the South African Air forces used Rand Airport as a base to service and maintain their fleet of aircraft and to store ammunition and bombs. They erected three hangars and a bomb dump on the airport and some of the Harvards maintained and serviced in those hangars are still housed at Rand to this day, albeit now privately owned and used in aerial displays, not pilot training. Due to Rand’s colourful history the main terminal building was declared a National Heritage site.

The TAC (Transvaal Aviation Club) became the famous drinking hole for many aviators and people at the airport and was once the Mess for the officers of the SAAF. The building is also a heritage site.

Present Day

Rand Airport was privatized in October 2000. A consortium was formed consisting of the Operators at the airport, Mayondi (a black empowerment investment company) and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council. Rand Airport’s role has changed over time but it continues to play an important part in aviation despite no longer having international status, which it lost in October 1999 when the government (the Department of NIDS) decided to cut the number of international airports in the country and only allowed one per province except Gauteng, which was allowed two, one obviously being Johannesburg International (JIA) and the other being Lanseria. Rand is still a busy airport and provides facilities for private and commercial ventures and houses adequate facilities for the full spectrum of aviation-related requirements.

The beacon light at Rand Airport is on at night from 18.00 until 06.00 and is visible from 70 miles out at 7500 feet. It has been and still is a welcome sight and beacon for any pilot finding himself confused at night by the lights over Johannesburg and guides many pilots into the safety of the airport. Some airline pilots use the light as a check point on their finals into OR Tambo airport.

Movements at the airport have been on the up year-on-year and increasing steadily since 2015 and currently stands at over 8000 per month. The airport provides refuelling facilities and is one of the cheapest suppliers of Avgas in Gauteng. Safety is an important aspect at Rand Airport and one of the services provided to pilots and aircraft owners are the extensive fire fighting facilities available which are on standby from 6 am until 21.00 pm daily, except for weekends when it stops at 18:00. The airport carries a Category 6 rating and the associated services.

Rand Airport provides job opportunities to hundreds of workers whether highly skilled or only in the basic skills category because of the business ventures based there and because of its central location the airport provides easy access and relatively cheap travel to the employees.

All in all Rand Airport is worth a visit and has many more facets than what looks like merely an airport with runways and planes taking off.