At an airline show recently, I bought a 1972 issue of "Skyways", the South African Airways inflight magazine. Inside is an article about the new international terminal at Jan Smuts (now O.R. Tambo) International Airport in Johannesburg. This building still serves as the international terminal, but today it's practically unrecognizable from the photos in the article.
Thought I'd share this little bit of nostalgia, since the building is a pretty cool example of early 1970s concrete brutalism. Must have seemed exceptionally modern when it opened. Have a look (apologies for the iffy photo quality):
The building under construction. The concrete trellis structure was pretty distinctive for its time - it's still there, but partially covered up by additions and the Gautrain station.
The ticket lobby. According to the article, there were 30 check-in counters, 16 of which were for SAA's exclusive use. The revolving sculpture in the foreground was set into a reflecting pool. This lobby is still there and is somewhat recognizable, although it's been heavily reconfigured:
Passport control on the ground level, which originally had nine immigration stations and four baggage claim carousels. Above them is a mosaic frieze by artist Jeanne Kotze:
The transit lounge, with three relief panels created by artist Bill Hart:
The main restaurant, with a burnished copper mural by artist Eone de Wet:
A ceramic mural by Armando Baldinelli at the entrance to the arrivals hall:
Interestingly, despite being purpose-built for widebodies (the article talks about how it was completed just in time for SAA's first 747 service in December 1971), the building had no jetways - passengers took escalators down to a ground level departure lounge and walked or took buses to their aircraft. Jetways weren't attached to the building until it was expanded in the 1990s.
When the building opened, JNB
was served by just about every western European carrier (BOAC, UTA, KLM, Sabena, Lufthansa, Swissair, SAS, Alitalia, Iberia and TAP) as well as Varig and Pan Am. Given the political situation in South Africa, African carriers were notably absent. The only ones flying there were from friendly countries - Air Botswana, Air Rhodesia and DETA from Portuguese-administered Mozambique. South Africa occupied Namibia at the time, but Suidwes Lugdiens (the predecessor to today's Air Namibia) was still a small outfit and none of its aircraft could reach Johannesburg.
The original terminal was given over to domestic traffic after 1971, and served in that capacity until a new domestic terminal was built in the 1990s. It was finally torn down ahead of the 2010 World Cup so that the new central terminal could be constructed.
A few JNB
-related questions for anyone in the know:
- When did the eastern parallel runway at JNB
open? This is the runway that's used for most arrivals today. I can't seem to find a good history of the airport online.
- Was the opening of this runway controversial? The northern end of the runway butts right up against the Bonaero Park neighborhood; it even looks like some houses were demolished to make way for the approach light system. Aside: look up Bonaero Park on Google Maps - every street is named for a famous airport!