Use data to streamline local airports


The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Airports across the world are key strategic and economic assets. They are the first and last contact with visitors coming into and out of the country. They can either leave a long positive or negative impression on visitors about the people and the country. In other words, the image of a country comprises of the sum total of the collective actions by its people.

When the actions are in the negative, it becomes a collective failure. The central feature of collective failure is when people act as though they are doing the right thing when in fact they are covering for their failure to plan. When people busy themselves on behalf of other groups of people, failure is perceived by outsiders as collective or a cultural practice that is devoid of justice.

This is exactly what happened on Sunday 9, 2018 in Terminal 1A of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), the home of the struggling Kenya Airways. Signs of failed planning and chaos rang in all directions. Long queues and slow processing at the passport control were the order of the day, a fact that was compounded by pesky officials forcing through their way with their preferred travellers leaving many of the passengers wondering what to do. Some of us who were early watched in dismay as order was discarded. I am certain that there was data on the number of travellers coming through that morning or the staffs had the experience from the past to come up with a workable solution but they never had any plan B.

A simple solution should have been easily re-routing some passengers through terminal 1B, which was practically empty. There were at least ten flights departing from Terminal 1A, with the majority of passengers headed to Guangzou, China. Good management practices demand that several simulation exercises are conducted to determine the time it takes a passenger to move through all the required security steps.

With this, one can estimate the time it takes to clear from the first checkpoint, go through the check in, pass through immigration and go through the final security check points before boarding the plane.

These measures are key to determining key performance indices for each employee but instead of approaching the management of this asset from a strategic and commercial perspective, the current approach is largely from rudimentary operational and technical angle.Strategically, this airport - which is to handle more than seven million passengers this year, contribute about 1 percentage of GDP and create an impact of about $7.8 billion - is a critical cog to our agricultural supply chain as more passengers mean more consumption of local foods.

The government is targeting over 25 million passengers annually by 2025 based on the expansion of JKIA's terminals. Terminal 1A can handle up to 2.5 million passengers a year but due lacklustre management, it most likely handles much fewer.

To make this asset more economically viable, some restructuring is necessary. Although the immigration department has been digitised, some processes are duplicated and unnecessary simply because analogue processes are hard to discard.

There is no reason why an e-passport should be stamped and signed if it has been scanned. Facial recognition CCTVs can provide proof of exit to ease congestion. If we must continue with analogue stamping on e-passports, then they should have more staff during peak hours.

The anticipated biometric identity will boost validation of identity as a means to facilitate movement. Other challenges included the breakdown of scanning equipment and virtually compromised security checks as airline staff pressured them to fast track the process. As such, the airport requires more investments in scanners to close performance gaps.

There is need to assess the current state assets, ensure that each employee understands their service level, determine which assets are critical to sustained performance, develop a long-term funding strategy and above all develop data analytic capability. Building our image is a battle and as Dwight Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Let’s leverage data in planning airports.