Port Elizabeth of Now: The Chief Dawid Stuurman Airport

This blog covers the developments at the main Port Elizabeth airport over the past 50 years. Passenger numbers have continued to swell apace in spite of the sluggish economic growth especially subsequent to the 1970s. What would highlight this trend are passenger numbers and aircraft landings per annum. However, except for the passenger numbers from 2006, nothing else is available. 

Main picture: The Chief Dawid Stuurman airport

Major developments since 1955

The major developments at the airport subsequent to the completion of the first permanent buildings in 1955 were as follows:

As part of the 2004 upgrade was a planned extension of the main runway to 3000 metres which was presumably to cater for use of larger planes anticipated during the FIFA World Cup in 2010. These extensions were never made. With the main east-west runway only having a length of 1980 metres, this would preclude the landing of larger planes at Port Elizabeth. The airport has however managed to land an Airbus A340.   

These major upgrades were carried out to consolidate the arrivals and departures in a single terminal building. Unfortunately the architecture of the new building is rather banal and lacks the points of interest of the original. Parts of original 1950’s building (including the air traffic control tower) have been retained but these are no longer public areas.

ACSA Aerials PE 03.05.2007
Above: Google captures a 180m extension to the runway and widening of the taxiway


Above: Layout of the airport

The airport boasts two runways: Runway number 08-26, an east -west runway being 1980 metres long & runway number 35-17 having a length of 1677 metres. Primarily used by light aircraft, this runway only accounts for approximately 1% of the landings and take-offs.

ACSA Aerials PE 03.05.2007


  • The convenience of having an airport only a 10-minute drive from the city’s CBD
  • Handles 2 million passengers per annum
  • 12 Code C/B aircraft parking bays
  • Vehicle parking bays 1669.
  • Terminal area 9 000 square meters.
  • Site can accommodate up 17 million annual passengers with additional land.
  • Main runway can be extended for intercontinental flights.
  • 6400 m2 cargo facility owned by SAA
  • Current demand is up to 10 000 tonnes.
  • Current capacity is 50 000 tonnes assuming automation (7,5 to 10 tons/ m2).
  • Four Freight Forwarders, in a separate building.
  • Cross runways.
  • Cargo flights are predominantly bound for domestic destinations.
Above: 2021. The Albatross plane on display at our airport, has collapsed off its post and damaged in several places.


The existential threat hanging over the airport’s expansion relates to a potential invasion by squatters. Currently they occupy the land adjacent to the planned runaway extensions. Given the fact that there is a lack of political will to remove squatters especially when they have settled in with their corrugated iron shacks, what is the chance of their eviction is this event. Experience indicates that it is remote. The only authority that ACSA could use in this case to wave the IDP [The Integrated Development Plan] which has earmarked this land for their usage.

The conversion of the airport into an Aerotopolis as is proposed would require the airport to be relocated to the area adjacent to the Ngqura harbour some 25 kms away. Unlike most SOEs [State Owned Enterprises] ACSA has not suffered the depredations of the light-fingered and the criminally-minded at heart. With price increases in excess of inflation, ACSA has made handsome profits. Even so, the relocation of the airport would only be justifiable on political and not on economic grounds.

A more remote but potentially disruptive event is the fact that the somnambulant Shark River runs underground under the southern portion of the property. The Great Flood of 1968 is a harbinger of what is possible when a trickle of a river is expected to handle 1000 times more water than usual. The trickle transmogrified into a raging torrent more than a metre high and 10 metres across. Depending upon where the epicentre of another of the frequent 100-year floods occurs, the Shark River will once again display the power of water.    

Future developments

Above: Proposed extension to the airport

Future surges in aircraft landings and passengers handled will necessitate the extension of the main runway. The only statistic that is publicly available is the number of passengers carried per annum for the years 2006 to 2017 from the ACSA website. It would be fascinating to have this statistic for every year since the airports inception. Another illumination statistic would be the number of landings by broad aircraft category. Likewise, this is unavailable.

Ultimate capacity

17 million passengers per annum, 100,000 cargo & vibrant general aviation

The revolving name

Over the 70 odd years of its existence, the airport has borne the indignity of the political winds with fortitude. Its first name, Driftsands, is the most appropriate and evocative as it encapsulates the area on which it was erected. Its second name was undoubtedly the most offensive as it was repugnant to a vast swath of South Africa’s population. If the name had to honour some dignitary, why not honour Allister Miller for his contribution not only to South African aviation but also to Port Elizabeth in particular.    

Names of the airport over the years


Anthony Groom

ACSA Website

Brochure on the PE International Airport

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