The Department of Home Affairs says its Advanced Passenger Processing (APP) system that went live with South African Airways (SAA) on November 23 and is now also being used by Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines will save the state and airlines millions every year.
The department says APP will allow it to process more travellers at airport points-of-entry with fewer staff, saving at least R590 000 per annum. Having traveller data available in electronic format for processing will save a further R1.2 million.
In addition, airlines are expected to save R54.1 million in administrative overheads related to fines and the cost of repatriating improperly documented passengers to SA.
APP is part of global airline information technology provider SITA’s iBorders suite of solutions and was ordered by the DHA in July at an undisclosed cost to help ready SA for the upcoming Soccer World Cup.
Neither the DHA nor SITA would to divulge the cost of the project, but said it was part and parcel of some R500 million budgeted this financial year for IT.
SITA previously said the cost was in line with other similar projects across the world. News reports show an APP implementation in Kuwait recently cost was $37 million (R277.3 million).
APP allows carriers and governments to transfer passenger data in an interactive and real-time manner that enables government to pre-clear travellers for entry into a country. In order to do this the airline collects and sends passport details for each passenger at check-in to an authority in the destination state – in this case the DHA – and receives a real-time response from the government on that passengers’ eligibility to travel.
Essentially, says a DHA background note on APP, it extends a country’s border to the point of departure as the decision whether to allow entry to a passenger is made at the time of check-in as opposed to upon arrival in SA.
If a discrepancy is detected in a travellers’ visa or passport, the traveller is denied check-in and advised to return to the nearest SA consulate for further attention. To date 4492 passengers have been processed across the three airlines, of whom 2249 were SA citizens and 1409 were foreign passport holders, including 634 in transit.
By Sunday (December 12) each of the three airlines had shown one passenger away – one in Singapore, one in Hong Kong and one – on SAA – in Mumbai, India.
Passenger detail, typically their full names, passport numbers and expiry dates as well as date of birth are also checked against various local and international databases including the DHA’s prohibited immigrant watch list – and in the case of the soccer tournament also the FIFA football hooligan black list.
Home Affairs Deputy Minister, Malusi Gigaba, told the government Bua news agency earlier this month that the department was closely working with Interpol as well.
Gigaba said visa exemptions for the soccer spectacular were possible but were only made available to FIFA accredited delegates in possession of letters of accreditation from the world football body.
However, even then delegates are pre-screened by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
DHA Deputy Director General of Ports Control Mari Greyling last month told a press conference on APP hosted by SITA on the sidelines of an International Air Transport Association aviation security conference that the system would first be rolled out at OR Tambo, Cape Town and Durban international airports and then at all other designated international airports, the maritime and the rail environment.
“Of the 41 airlines [that fly to and from SA] 31 have gone through Phase 1, the sign-up. We’re engaging the others through the Civil Aviation Authority, the Department of Transport as well as the various airline associations,” Greyling said “Of the 31 that have signed up, a large number have started with roll-out programmes and some of them have gone through testing and certification.
“We hope to have a good number of flights during the peak season, the December season – so we can start seeing results from APP.
Bua also reported the DHA as established an Immigration Response Unit which will be deployed during periods of congestion at the ports of entry with a 15 to 30 minutes response time. An answer to a Parliamentary question in October, the DHA said it had created 143 “critical posts … to improve immigration capacity at ports of entry” at a cost of about R25.7 million inclusive of recruiting and training.
Speaking at the same media conference as Greyling, SITA Government & Security Solutions vice president for business development Thomas Marten said APP had been originally developed for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
“Whenever governments expect a huge spike in passenger volumes – for the world cup etcetera – they want to ensure facilitation and a pleasant passenger experience but at the same time want to enhance security. When the world is watching you is not the time to let your guard down,” Marten said.
“One of the issues with APP is airlines don’t have to go to greater expense or change systems. It work seamlessly with existing airline IT systems.
At the same time, Marten said, APP does not replace primary line officials. “The idea is not to fire all the check-in agents, immigration and custom people and just to use IT. no. that’s not the way t works. What you are doing is putting powerful tools into the hands of the existing officials. You’re still going to rely on their instincts.”
“The vast majority of travellers are perfectly legitimate business people and tourists and you want them to come back. You cannot have processes that are unpleasant. Their first and last impression of your country is the airport and having their experience being pleasant, efficient and effective is in everyone’s interest.”
Natasha Georgiev, head of marketing for SITA Africa, earlier this year said the APP system could shorten border control queues at airport arrivals and shorten immigration processing to 20 seconds per person, except if a person was flagged as a threat or “undesirable”.
Georgiev said airports could expect estimated timesavings of 30% and a possible 20% of floor space to dedicate to retail, as the APP system would require less border control agents.
APP also linked the DHA’s immigration system to various other stakeholders within the government security cluster, such as the South African Police Service, NIA and even the South African Revenue Service, to share individuals’ information.
It is known that the tax service has had a similar system in place since about June to track SA taxpayers for the purposes of confirming income tax claims and foreign exchange claims.