There is something mystical about the nation at the southern tip of the African continent. The colliding currents of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans have provided tumultuous waters for shipping vessels throughout the centuries. Great literary works set in South Africa have captured the spirit of its people, its complex geography, diverse natural resources, its rich wildlife, and its continued political evolution. Today, South Africa’s identity and role within the African continent and global community continues to be written. A major contributor to this trend is the O.R. Tambo International Airport.
The airport has a long history that began in 1952. It was originally named the Jan Smuts Airport in honor of the former Prime Minister but later changed to the Johannesburg International Airport. It changed yet again to its current name in 1994. These name changes were all associated with respect to the shifting political tides of the day. Today, the airport continues to grow as it meets the demands of a country that is enjoying greater political stability, industrial and commercial growth, and its increasing role as a tourist destination. The airport infrastructure has grown with this demand to meet the needs of international travelers utilizing the newest and largest versions of the Boeing 747 and Airbus 380.
This airport has recently welcomed its first, full-service FBO,Fireblade Aviation. The new FBO will diversify the airport’s clientele to include corporate flights originating from domestic and international origins. Fireblade Aviation is a project that was developed by father and son, Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer. The Oppenheimer family has long been synonymous with the mining industry of South Africa. However, the development of Fireblade Aviation is actually the latest chapter in the Oppenheimer family’s long history with aviation dating back nearly 100 years.
Jonathan stated, “Aviation is in my DNA.” His grandfather flew a de Havilland aircraft in central Africa with General Jan Smuts early on in the last century. He also helped in the development of Anglo American’s flight department that is considered one of the oldest corporate flight departments in the world. Nicky and Jonathan are continuing the family’s aviation heritage in the form of Fireblade Aviation with a $15 million investment that reveals a state-of-the-art campus equipped with a primary passenger and crew facility along with two cavernous hangars that will entertain the needs of just about any corporate aircraft or commercial airliner.
Jonathan states, “At the heart of this project is immense passion for aviation [and] we believe we have created a leading global product and brand in Fireblade Aviation that is synonymous with the highest quality of service and attention to detail. Our employees, who are stakeholders in the business, are just as passionate about our product which will ensure visitors to the facility receive world class service.” The facility is located to the east of the north/south parallel runways opposite the commercial airline terminals.
The FBO terminal building that Fireblade now occupies was a heavily renovated pre-existing structure. Through the guidance of the architectural firm, LYT, the building was redesigned to provide a “safe, secure, and discrete environment” for their clientele while at the same time, meet the mission and branding requirements of the organization. Implementing a new design that was to meet these specific requirements was not without obstacles. LYT, however, was able to meet these challenges head on all while yielding a contemporary structure that would provide an atmosphere reminiscent of a “boutique hotel” and avoid the traditional FBO traps of simply being a “lounge with internet access.”
The exterior of the building carries a contemporary theme of glass and grey steel with common structural accents that are integrated into the port cochère and covered patios and walkways. The landside of the second story features a viewing area that yields 180-degree panoramic views of the airport and surrounding areas. The airside of the building consists of a two-story glass wall allowing unobstructed views of the ramp and the two monstrous hangars.
A single, defining feature of the building is one that merges an airfoil into the structure’s architectural design. The design effort is subtle yet domineering all at the same time as the structure engulfs the leading edge of a wing. The top camber of the wing appears to descend through the building where the trailing edge finally exists the structure and serves as a shelter for the outdoor walkway. Finally, the aforementioned glass wall is nestled within the airfoil’s cross-section on the airside of the building. The overall effect provides a ramp presence that is simultaneously powerful and welcoming for all aircraft pulling up to the FBO.
The architectural design of the structure is augmented in a number of additional ways. A beautiful combination of direct and indirect lighting illuminates the glass and steel exterior all while also providing functionality for the port cochère and covered walkways. Further luminary enhancements include randomly placed blue neon lights. The grounds surrounding the structure are landscaped with indigenous plants and complete the exterior’s inviting feel.
The interior of the building matches the exterior with abundant use of architectural lighting, modern décor, and amenities that would fit comfortably within any New York or Paris flat or Hong Kong condo. Day rooms, power stations, relaxation terrace, bistro dining, gym, personal showers, VIP suites, and a conference room round out the amenities providing everything for crew and passengers.
A major element incorporated into the interior design of the facility is that it doubles as an exhibit for its local artists. Through collaboration with a distinguished art gallery, Everard Read, paintings and sculptures add depth and focal points for the eye and help blend the cutting edge design of the facility with the history and rich culture of the South African people.
Design and amenities are only one part of the equation. Functionality and meeting the mission needs of their clientele is critical. Numerous efforts to meet these needs, both through staffing and infrastructure, have been met yielding an all-inclusive experience.
Customs and Immigration
The airport has long since been a commercial hub for international airline travel. However, the same airport was not configured to conveniently meet the needs of corporate aircraft crew and passengers arriving from other countries. Fireblade Aviation has solved that dilemma as they offer the ability for crew and passengers to clear customs and immigration on site without having to be transferred to the international terminal for clearance. Not only does this expedite the pace of travel but it helps achieve the goal of providing greater levels of privacy for Fireblade’s clientele.
Airside operations are well equipped with a new fuel farm proudly sourced by a local South African company called Tank Clinic. The primary tank holds 69,000 liters of Jet-A (approximately 18,200 US Gallons) and distribution of the fuel is provided by two fuel trucks each with a capacity of 20,000 liters (approximately 5,300 US Gallons).
FBO One, developed by Amsterdam Software, powers management of fuel sales, inventory, and all other front and back office business workflows. The software platform is being adopted in nearly every region including North America and the United States with Bangor, Maine being one of the first in the country to adopt the platform.
Hangars & Apron
Both hangars, owned by Denel of South Africa, have also been refurbished to meet the needs of Fireblade. Immaculate floor coatings mirror perfect reflections of the aircraft parked inside. Fire suppression systems enhance the safety of persons and aircraft while large multi-leaf, bottom rolling doors grant access to the cavernous space within the hangars.
The smaller of the two hangars grants 3,500 square meters of space (approximately 38,000 square feet). The second hangar, known as K8, offers a whopping 13,000 square meters (approximately 140,000 square feet)! The apron keeps par with the hangars and is, by far, the largest feature of the entire facility. It is massive and is positioned to handle an incredible number of aircraft whether transient or staying overnight or longer.
The Fireblade Fleet
Fireblade Aviation is a full service FBO as it also offers a complete fleet of aircraft to meet their clientele’s air travel needs, domestically or internationally. The fleet consists of a Pilatus PC-12NG, a Lear 45, an Augusta-Westland AW139, and the extremely capable Global 6000 by Bombardier. All the aircraft within the fleet share a common paint scheme and together, are able to complete just about any mission that is called upon.
There has been a resurgence in FBO design and function around the world and it is with great enthusiasm that HangarSphere was able to participate with Fireblade Aviation founders, Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer, the facility’s General Manager Bjorn Ischner, and, of course, their media agent, Jane Stanbury of Emerald Media in the United Kingdom. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and to introduce South Africa’s newest FBO, Fireblade Aviation, and its newly renovated facilities.