O R Tambo International Airport – Part 1

With the FIFA World Soccer Cup less than 600 days away, South Africa’s preparations for the huge event are well under way. SERVAMUS recently visited the O R Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park to learn more about security at this international airport and to see whether they will be able to handle the “world” that will be visiting South Africa.

New developments

O R Tambo International Airport is not only the flagship airport of South Africa, but also the air transport hub of Southern Africa. This big, busy airport caters for more than 17 million passengers each year, but with the 2010 Soccer World Cup around the corner, it is expected that this number will increase enormously. To be able to cope with the additional international visitors that will be coming to South Africa for the event, the more than R3 billion infrastructure development project is well under way at this international airport. This includes the R219 million Echo Apron, the R535 million International Pier and the R2 billion Central Terminal Building (CTB) that has been opened recently. The Central Terminal Building links the current domestic and international terminals. It has sufficient check-in counters, security controls and immigration counters to serve large numbers of passengers quickly and efficiently. It will also be connected to the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link for easy access to rail transport to Johannesburg, Sandton and Pretoria.

Security is another important aspect that needed to be revisited, considering the expected number of visitors that will use the airport. As with the majority of international airports around the world, O R Tambo International Airport is faced with a widening spectrum of security issues, ranging from petty theft to organised crime. Security at this airport cannot be discussed without taking the size of the operations into consideration. Apart from the millions of passengers the airport has to deal with, cargo, passengers’ luggage, traffic and the family and friends meeting the travellers, are but some of the aspects that have to be dealt with. Add to this the thousands of employees of the different companies that operate within O R Tambo International Airport, and one quickly realises that this international airport is similar to a big town.

During my first visit to O R Tambo International Airport, I soon realised that one article will not be sufficient to cover all the safety and security-related aspects at this international airport. Not even 3 full days for interviews, and many kilometres on foot around the airport, were enough to cover all the abovementioned aspects, and I wondered: What had I gotten myself into? Readers can therefore look forward to a series of articles in SERVAMUS, where we will discuss the role and functions of the various role-players including the SAPS, ACSA security, EMPD, SARS, Immigration, Fire and Rescue, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Department of Agricultural, Nature Conservation, Port Health and many more.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA)

ACSA owns O R Tambo International Airport (and eight other major airports in South Africa and manages one), and Mr Jason Tshabalala, Head: Security O R Tambo International Airport told SERVAMUS more about security at Africa’s biggest airport. Safety and security remain one of ACSA’s top priorities and its main responsibility is aviation security (everything relating to air safety and access to it). During the past few years millions of rands have been spent on security at this airport. “We work very closely with the SAPS and various other security agencies, as well as customs and immigration to put effective measures in place to counter any threats,” Mr Tshabalala said.

The aviation security sector at O R Tambo International Airport has 460 staff members who work in a number of different sections. These sections include operations, permits and biometrics, risk analysis, compliance, cargo and general aviations.

ACSA crime fighting initiatives

ACSA is aware of its security responsibilities and has therefore installed some of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance equipment at the airport. Security is continually assessed and when necessary, changes and improvements are done quickly. As part of their crime fighting initiatives ACSA:

  • Installed an automated baggage management system that limits human contact with baggage;
  • increased CCTV coverage of thebaggage make-up area and upgraded the CCTV control room, which monitors areas such as baggage make-up, passenger screening, customs and immigration and the perimeter gates;
  • made baggage wrapping facilities available;
  • implemented a new process to improve access control in restricted areas, including the use of a new colour-coded permit and biometric technology. The enhanced system uses biometric readers for access, which limits access to sensitive areas. For example, only specific individuals requiring direct access, will be able to access certain areas;
  • increased access control in the baggage handling areas by establishing a new R25 million Staff Processing Facility (see Baggage Protection Unit); and
  • upgraded the perimeter fence and gates at O R Tambo International Airport, which were constructed in consultation with SAPS to specifications that exceed those stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Keeping up with international security standards

Aviation security is managed in line with the standards and recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). ICAO Annexures set the standards that contracting states need to comply with which in turn needs to be incorporated into that country’s legislation in order to give effect to the relevant conventions in order for airports to comply with. SA has national oversight of aviation security, which is vested in the National Aviation Security Committee (NASC).

According to Mr Tshabalala, ACSA is continually assessing and monitoring all aspects of security, to ensure that they are on a par with international standards. ACSA’s aviation security standards are subject to a robust three-tiered audit comprising internal, national and international reviews. ACSA employs full-time standards compliance officers, who monitor security compliance by the various airport stakeholders on an on-going basis. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) conducts periodic audits at airports under ACSA’s management to check compliance with aviation security standards. The US Transportation Security Administration performs an annual audit at O R Tambo International Airport, to ensure that ACSA’s standards comply with their stringent requirements. “Security standards are not negotiable and we continue to meet the highest aviation security standards in the world,” said Mr Tshabalala. Quality management audits are also done regularly on all operations.

Security committees

There are a number of committees that deal with security at O R Tambo International Airport, including:

  • The National Aviation Security Committee (NASC) which includes representatives from the South African CAA, SAPS, ACSA, the Air Traffic Navigation Services and other government departments. This committee continually reviews the adequacy of systems, processes and procedures designed to address the vital area of aviation security effectively.
  • The Local Airport Security Committee is chaired by ACSA. This committee consists of the SAPS, airline operators, air traffic navigational services and government agencies such as NIA, SARS, CAA, Metro Police and fire chief. This committee drives security around the airport at the different sectors – cargo, terminals, airside and landside.
  • The Joint Planning Committee is chaired by the SAPS. This committee was established in terms of the National Key Point Act 102 of 1980. ACSA, security companies and all government agencies are involved in this committee. A JOC meeting is held every Tuesday morning, during which the role-players discuss operational issues and implement new procedures where loopholes have been spotted.
  • The Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee is chaired by SARS, and this committee aims to coordinate activities of the border environment.

Contracted security companies

ACSA has licensed six companies to provide services at O R Tambo International Airport and uses two of the security companies to provide services on its behalf. These companies provide physical security comprising securing access control at the gates as well as screening vehicles accessing the restricted area. They also provide services in the car park areas.

Baggage Protection Unit

Once a passenger has checked in, his/her baggage moves along an automated conveyor belt to be scanned and drops down a flight- allocated chute. The baggage is loaded onto vehicles to be transported to aircraft and undergoes the same process when being off-loaded. The larger the airport, the bigger the challenge to prevent baggage pilferage as baggage is transported over longer distances.

Since the establishment of a Baggage Protection Unit in December 2007, a significant decrease in theft, relating to baggage handling at O R Tambo International Airport has been noticed. On average 24 000 bags are handled each day, and previously between 24 to 34 bags were tampered with daily. Fortunately the numbers have decreased to between six and eight bags per day. This Unit has adopted a zero-tolerance approach. Within 6 months after its establishment, more than 30 permits have been confiscated from staff members for non-compliance offences. With the help of ACSA compliance staff, the Unit has arrested a number of staff members involved in pilferage offences in the baggage handling areas.

“Baggage pilferage is not exclusive to O R Tambo International Airport and is an issue experienced around the world,” said Mr Jacques Antoine, Aviation Manager:

O R Tambo International Airport. “This airport falls well below the international average. The worst airport reported 28 pilfered bags out of 10 000.” At O R Tambo International Airport the benchmark is currently 3 out of 10 000.

The new Staff Processing Facility ensures that air side personnel can no longer take items of a personal nature into the areas where they work. Air side staff members use a single gate and are screened both before they report to their workplace and when they return to the facility to collect their personal belongings before leaving work. Entry into the restricted baggage area is allowed only if workers are in uniform, and wearing safety boots and reflector jackets.

No cellphone, jewellery or foreign currency is allowed. These baggage handlers only have restricted access to certain areas on the airport.

Screening passengers

Five international airports, amongst others Heathrow in London and Charles de Gaulle in Paris were visited to learn from them and enquire about best practices. The success recipes of these airports were customised for the South African context. One such an initiation was the Central Screening Project (CSP). Passengers departing from O R Tambo International Airport will walk through a partitioned screening area equipped with plasma screens. Mr Jacques Antoine explained that once passengers reach the newly upgraded security screening area, they will be informed by means of visual animation and audio about the various security regulations by which they need to abide by. By the time the passengers reach the security check point, they will have been informed about various security measures, such as taking their laptops out of their bags etc. Not only will the CSP ensure passengers’ safety and security, it will also allow passengers to pass through checkpoints quickly.

Perimeter security and access control to the air side is one of ACSA’s main responsibilities. All passengers are screened by archway metal detection systems and X-ray machines. The most modern X-ray technology is used to detect possible explosives or other suspicious items in hand baggage.

Safety in the car parks

Parking is one of the areas that are most affected as more people use air travel, and they want to find that their cars are safe and sound when they return. ACSA has fully realised the importance of providing secure parking for its customers and therefore a multi-storey parkade with more than 4500 parking bays has been built at a cost of R160 million. This new parkade has more than tripled the airport’s car parking capacity. With this new infrastructure ACSA can efficiently handle 30 000 vehicles a day. A system that informs vehicle drivers where they will find unoccupied parking bays (indicated with a green light in the roof of the parkade above the parking bay) will save people lots of frustration and time.

Vehicle security is increasingly becoming a priority at O R Tambo International Airport and a secure parking environment is one in which people may not leave the parking area with a vehicle that is not theirs. This involves a security structure (ANPR or automatic number plate recognition) that detects the vehicle licence plate and colour against the ticket issued to ensure that they match on exit. Therefore it is important that drivers take the parking ticket with them and do not leave it in the vehicle. Pay on foot systems ensure that drivers take their tickets with them.

With all these security measures in place people often take risks as they assume that nothing will happen. But they forget that criminals constantly try to outsmart any security measures. Security officers often find that passengers do not lock their vehicles or close their windows when leaving their vehicles in the parkade. In one incident, a car was even found idling while the driver boarded a flight.

Segways – increased efficiency

Segways are used by terminal and security staff members at O R Tambo International Airport to do their work faster and more efficiently. These two-wheel, battery operated vehicles are an absolute must when one takes the size of this huge airport into consideration.


ACSA is adamant to maintain tight security at all times and therefore they have a valuable partnership with the SAPS who assist them in improving general security at airports. They work hand in hand as they roll out plans to improve on airport security. The fact that there are hundreds of police members deployed at O R Tambo International, makes this one of the most actively policed airports in South Africa. SERVAMUS will bring you more about the challenge to police this airport next month, following our interviews with the different SAPS sector commanders on the airport.


www.iol.co.za – accessed on 8, 9 and 10 October 2008.

www.engineeringnews.co.za/article.php?a_id=127900 – accessed on 10 October 2008.

www.airports.co.za/home.asp?pid=94&toolid=2&ItemID=3352 – accessed on 10 October 2008.

www.caa.co.za/press_files/2006/Info%20on%20Security%20at%20ACSA – accessed on 9 October 2008.www.acsa.co.za – accessed on 8, 9 and 10 October 2008.

PUBLICATION: www.servamus.co.za
AUTHOR: Kotie Geldenhuys
DATED: 3rd November 2008