The History of OR Tambo International Airport
Page updated : 9th January 2023
Johannesburg airport history started when the Rand Airport (IATA = QRA : ICAO = FAGM), with its aircraft shaped, art décor building, was constructed in the 1920s to service the growing air traffic demand from Johannesburg.
The airport was officially opened in the 1930s.
By the 1940s, the runways at Rand Airport had become too short to accommodate the new, larger aircraft servicing Britain, and plans had to be made to move to a more suitable airport.
Palmietfontein Airport, a wartime air force base south-east of Johannesburg, was converted into a temporary airport, whilst the new airport, Jan Smuts Airport (IATA = JNB, ICAO = FAJS, now OR Tambo International Airport), was being built.
European flights started from Palmietfontein in 1945.
The newly built Jan Smuts Airport, which was named after the prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, South African Prime Minister, military leader and philosopher – Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, became operational in 1952.
After implementing a policy of not naming airports after politicians, the new ANC led South African Government renamed the airport Johannesburg International in 1994, but after rescinding this policy in 2006, the airport was once again renamed – this time after Oliver Tambo, the former President of the African National Congress.
Major redevelopment took place over the last few years, which was due to the airport becoming a major hub for southern hemisphere air travel, and is today, a modern and efficient airport.
Palmietfontein Airport : A 3.8 mile (6,1 kilometer) motor racing circuit was created, using the two tarred runways of the Palmietfontein airport, for the 1956 Rand Grand Prix, which was won by Peter Whitehead driving a Ferrari.
The townships of Thokoza and Katlehong were later laid out on the Palmietfontein Airport site.
Sections of the original runways – 039/219 (S26.33340° E028.14254°) and 174/354 (S26.33377° E028.14546°), are still visible on Google Earth.
Rand Airport has remained a popular airport with thousands of aircraft movements as well as a number of aircraft maintenance organizations, flying schools, air charter operators as well as car hire and pilot shops.
Rand Airport is home to the South African Airways Museum.
This is a “working” museum manned by volunteers with a number of aircraft, including two Boeing 747s, on show.
‘The History of OR Tambo International Airport’
‘OR Tambo International Airport’