South Africa’s O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg has taken a step up in the world by gaining a world-class FBO. Established by the aviation-loving Oppenheimer family and with a new terminal building and existing vast hangar (that could house three Airbus A380s), the FBO is set to put Jo’burg’s airport on the business aviation map.
Jonathan Oppenheimer, director, told AIN that the new Fireblade FBO has fulfilled a long-held dream of the family, which is intrinsically linked not only with the world of diamond mining (De Beers and Anglo American) but also with aviation. In fact, the family’s own corporate flight department, now separate from Anglo American, is “the oldest corporate flight department in the world, at about 77,” said Oppenheimer, a claim that has been backed up by the NBAA, he added. The idea of the setting up an FBO at Johannesburg goes back “at least 20 or 30 years,” he said.
It all started when Jonathan’s grandfather flew a De Havilland Rapide to the Congo with General Jan Smuts of South Africa. They operated a number of different types, eventually including King Airs, and were the first operator of Gulfstreams in Africa. The operation now has four aircraft, a Learjet 45, Global Express, Pilatus PC-12 and AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter.
Oppenheimer accepts that Fireblade will be in direct competition with ExecuJet’s FBO at Lanseria Airport, further outside of Jo’burg, as it moves into its new space. Oppenheimer said that among other advantages, Tambo International fuel prices are 20 percent below those at Lanseria, as jet-A is delivered via a pipeline rather than tanker trucks. Fireblade is a dealer for Shell Aviation (Booth 2040).
Investment in the facilities so far amounted to $15 million, he added, and all approvals are in place apart from immigration and customs, which at the time of writing were expected shortly. The land and buildings are leased from South African aerospace company Denel, including the huge hangar and the new FBO terminal.
The second floor of the new FBO has a restaurant, spa, showers, meeting rooms, operations room, gym and more, said Oppenheimer. He added that government aircraft are also welcome; the airport is more convenient for many government workers compared to Lanseria. In any case, for most operations it makes sense to use Tambo, he said, “as 80 percent of South Africa’s air movements originate at Johannesburg.”
The main hangar has 20,000 sq ft of office space. Maintenance services will not be provided but tenants are welcome to maintain their aircraft in the hangar, he said.
The family is not seeking to start FBOs around Africa and in fact Fireblade has a “unique” structure in giving employees 50 percent profit participation. “We are aiming to be a top 10 world FBO [in the AIN FBO Survey],” said Oppenheimer, suggesting that he viewed Fireblade’s quality as in the same league as the likes of TAG Farnborough.