ISSUE 11 | 2015
Delays at OR Tambo International Airport
Yesterday we convened a media briefing, at OR Tambo International Airport, better to explain to the public, through the media, the challenges we’ve encountered at OR Tambo and the steps that we took swiftly to avert the delays that were affecting travellers. We responded promptly precisely because as a department we remain committed to ensuring travellers, and other clients, are served diligently, efficiently, professionally and with utmost humility and care, at all times.
A brief background on this matter should assist, especially for Colleagues not in Port Control. Last December we launched the enhanced Movement Control System (eMCS) Biometric Pilot Programme. It was rolled out at selected passenger processing counters at the four pilot airports – Lanseria, King Shaka International Airport, Cape Town International Airport and the Transit area at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA).
We also exempted travellers in transit from using transit visas, allowing for capturing of their biometric data (fingerprints and photos) on arrival. This assisted in improving facilitation of travellers and in heightening security for all. The benefits included improved capacity to capture travellers’ biometrics in addition to normal scanning of passports. Such improved record of traveller movement on the eMCS meant improved safety for all clients and citizens. To this we add easing of movement for travellers, including frequent travellers and those in transit.
Some of you would know that with the biometric system in place, we were able to waive the requirement for Chinese nationals to apply for visas in person, on condition that their biometric data was captured on arrival. Accordingly, two dedicated biometric counters were allocated at the arrivals terminal in January 2016 for this purpose.
This being a phased-in approach, from 27 June (2016), in line with the Home Affairs Modernisation Programme, we increased the roll-out of biometrics, to cover 65% of our counters at ORTIA, including at the terminals for arrivals and transit. The upgrades we made in this regard impacted on the processing of travellers, particularly on 1 July (2016), but other factors contributed to the problems encountered, including:
- Higher than expected traveller volumes commensurate with school holidays and summer holidays in the northern hemisphere. On 1 July 2016, from 4pm to 9pm, there were 4 341 arrivals and 6578 departures.
- The queuing system and fast-tracking of delayed travellers by airlines, as well as some travellers not checking-in on time, compounded the situation.
- Passengers were rerouted from Terminal A to Terminal B (departures) to alleviate congestion, thus exacerbating the situation at the Central Terminal Building.
- Insufficient communication to travellers, on what to expect before travelling, and on the arrangement that they immediately proceed to immigration on arrival.
- Lack of communication at the terminals.
- Reluctance on the part of some travellers to use biometrics.
- Increased processing time, related to staff complement, also with officials posted still needing to adjust sufficiently to the changes.
We responded promptly to the challenge, by, among other things
- Mobilising Senior Management from Head Office to assist.
- Reverting to manual processing in response to the volumes of travellers.
- Decommissioning biometric capability on some systems to normal eMCS.
- Engaging the ACSA terminal management and the Airline Operation Committee, to enhance communication and guide traveller behaviour.
- Scaling up training for officials.
Further, I have directed our senior managers to step up the biometrics’ communication campaign, effectively and sufficiently to inform the public about the biometric system and its benefits. They will also engage conveyances to come on board, for instance by airing a short introductory video on biometrics prior to landing in the country, and by informing travellers to proceed directly to immigration after check-in. Communication, periodically, by ACSA (on the intercom system and signage) will greatly assist in informing travellers throughout the airport.
We have extended sincere apologies to the travellers for the inconvenience caused, and have committed continuously to minimise disruptions as we progressively usher in the new changes that are with no doubt fundamental to improved, efficient and secure service to clients. As a hospitable country aspiring to leverage international migration and tourism in ramping up the economy thus to roll back the frontiers of poverty, unemployment and inequality, it is in our best interest to excel in facilitating movement of travellers. We are building more capacity in this regard, thus over the last festive season we were able to process over five million travellers through our ports of entry.
We sympathise with officials at ORTIA who found themselves helpless in the face of these challenges, unable as it were to bring smiles to the faces of clients as we have charged them to do so, with humility, patience and respect.
Minister of Home Affairs