The Fireblade Aviation Fixed-Base Operations (FBO) terminal at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport handled its first international flight mid-February, the company has reported. An FBO is a private air terminal which caters for VIP and VVIP passengers flying into, out of and within a country on executive aircraft. Any and all international flights are controlled by national authorities. FBOs are common worldwide (there are more than 5 000 in the US alone). They provide quick and easy access to, and exit from, a country for global leading businesspeople, dignitaries, celebrities and charter clientele, while ensuring their privacy.
“We are excited to service international movements, which will complement our current domestic aircraft movements and enable Fireblade Aviation to fulfil its intended potential,” enthused company CEO Jonathan Oppenheimer. The arriving international flight and its passengers were met and cleared by officials and officers of the Department of Home Affairs, the South African Revenue Service and the South African Police Service.
The Fireblade terminal is located on a corner of the Denel site at the airport, on the opposite side of the runways from the main passenger terminals (Denel is itself a tenant of Airports Company South Africa, or ACSA, which owns and operates OR Tambo International Airport). International travellers pass through a ‘sterile’ customs and immigration area, whose design was controlled by government officials, located adjacent to the Fireblade business lounge.
“There are several benefits to having fully operational international border control capabilities at Fireblade,” stated ACSA. “Our main terminal at OR Tambo International will be freed up for additional capacity when commercial business aviation can use the Fireblade terminal. Runway crossings will be reduced tremendously, which will both improve safety and reduce time for departing and arriving aircraft. There is also a genuine need for these premium services offered by Fireblade at the largest airport in Africa, since the lack of these facilities currently affects our reputation and brand.”
The FBO terminal started domestic operations in September 2014. However, to be profitable, it also required international traffic. Despite receiving all the necessary approvals, the implementation of customs and Immigration services at the terminal was so delayed that the company was forced to resort to court action, which was successful, to get these services implemented at its facility.
Nevertheless, the company affirms: “The provision of this world-class service by Fireblade demonstrates that collaboration between the public and private sectors can bring significant benefits to South Africa, especially within the tourism sector.” The company describes its FBO terminal as a “seven- star facility” and “a significant milestone for Fireblade, the South African aviation sector and South Africa’s high-end tourism industry”.
Fireblade is owned by investment company E Oppenheimer & Sons, the holding company of South Africa’s renowned Oppenheimer family. During the period between the start of domestic operations and the start of international operations at the FBO, the company was kept solvent by the Oppenheimer family putting their own money into it.