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Big changes coming to South Africa’s airports – Including AI and biometric borders

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) is planning to improve operations at its facilities by using artificial intelligence (AI) and increased automation.

This will include a number of new strategies that aim to digitize the flight-going experience in order to streamline the process while improving security measures.

“We are currently busy with a number of initiatives that will harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to drive self-service functionality through various touchpoints at ACSA’s airports,” said group chief information officer Mthokozisi Mncwabe, reported Engineering News.

Automated airports

The state-owned ACSA is responsible for nine of the country’s biggest airports, comprising:

  • Bram Fischer International (Bloemfontein)
  • Cape Town International
  • Chief Dawid Stuurman International (Gqeberha)
  • George
  • Kimberley
  • King Phalo (East London)
  • King Shaka International (Durban)
  • OR Tambo International (Johannesburg)
  • Upington International

One of ACSA’s biggest goals is to implement a new biometrics-based border control system with the two main methods being facial recognition and a passport barcode with embedded biometric data.

This will be done with assistance from the Department of Home Affairs, and the two stakeholders have already taken the first steps to produce these systems, Mncwabe confirmed.

South Africa only recently started experimenting with biometric IDs and passports, which are already in use in places like the United States, the European Union, and much of Asia.

The most common form of biometric passport uses contactless smart card technology which stores information such as a person’s face, fingerprint, and eye record, depending on the country of issue.

ACSA further wishes to create a digital platform that will link all of an airport’s services, which currently operate in silos, together with a single user interface, according to Mncwabe.

“The idea is that multiple services, such as booking a flight, a car, or a hotel will be aggregated and accessed through a single platform and user interface,” he said.

While ACSA is currently engaging with multiple service providers, it has already invested R150 million in a flagship project with Microsoft to create an “AI-driven” personalized user experience for its customers.

Cybersecurity has been cited as an area of concern, given that hackers are constantly looking for and exploiting new vulnerabilities, but Mncwabe said that organisations can ensure that, at the very least, their security systems are always up to date with the latest patches.

“It is important to note that ACSA has significantly improved its cyber and information security maturity by focusing on people, processes, and technology,” he said.


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