Cape Town – The Department of Home Affairs has announced it will be allocating R25 million to increasing OR Tambo International Airport's capacity in the upcoming 2017/2018 financial year.
The aim of this financial injection would be mainly to appoint an "additional 58 immigration officials increase capacity in the DHA’s management team," Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba says.
An additional R17 million from the National Treasury for the 2018/2019 financial year has also been allocated to further increase staff capacity at OR Tambo, amounting to a R42 million boost to SA's biggest international airport over the next two years.
Speaking at a press conference in Pretoria, Gigaba stressed that although the department and National Government had limited resources, that OR Tambo was considered a priority as it served "as a strategic hub that requires additional resources on a permanent basis".
Limited human resources is the biggest hurdle for Home Affairs at the airport.
Ahead of the holiday period, additional staff had to be appointed at the last minute in anticipation of a congestion at immigration counters due to the influx of foreigners over the festive season. Apart from the extra hands at the counters, three other quick fixes also had to be made to see it through the busy holiday period.
"Now that the additional staff has been withdrawn," Gigaba says, "maintaining the same levels of efficiency and effectiveness poses a serious challenge."
For the festive season from 9 December 2016 to 14 January 2017 alone, OR Tambo served a total of 977 961 passengers, nearly 30 000 passengers more than in the same period last season, when 948 477 passed through OR Tambo.
According to Gigaba, OR Tambo has yet to reach its full capacity and going forward more permanent improvements would be required at the airport.
Upgrades expected, pilot projects implemented
Other areas of concern, apart from the limited staff resources, include the current infrastructure layout of the arriving and departing terminals, the DHA says. They are currently engaging with Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) to reconsider the current layout of identified areas.
Among the proposals, Gigaba says, is the idea to separate departing travellers by nationality, in the same way as in the Arrival Terminal where citizens are separated from foreign travellers.
Although no changes to infrastructure has been announced, softer upgrades have already been implemented at the airport.
During the past festive season, a new smart security system at the airport was already implemented in a pilot project.
This, Gigaba says, "showed that there is value in implementing the equipment permanently precisely because required services are different for citizens and other clients”.
The pilot implementation of the Smart Security went live during the first week of November at the international departures security point at the airport, and immediately ensured a smoother security experience for international guests departing the airport.
SEE: Everything you need to know about the new Security System at OR Tambo
According to Bongiwe Pityi, OR Tambo International Airport GM, the new Smart Security system means a much-less invasive, but more secure scanning system.
Another smart addition to the immigration services at the airport can be seen in the implementation a pilot project to capture biometric data from passengers.
Although the project has been met with a lot of pushback since implementation - mainly due to the delays that it has caused - the overall implementation of biometrics, if managed optimally, could mean a world-class and impenetrable security system.
SEE: OR Tambo new biometrics: International passengers urged to check in early
The Smart Security programme and biometric upgrades, as well as the proposed upgrades from the Department of Home Affairs, is in line with Acsa's 2025 vision to be the most sought-after partner in the world for the provision of sustainable airport management solutions.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- Everything you need to know about the new Security System at OR Tambo
- Acsa asks travellers to be vigilant after heist raises OR Tambo security concerns
- SA airport to remove cub petting images that give tourists the wrong message