African Airport Aims for TSA Clearance

John Barham, International Editor

A Canadian company has won a 25-year contract to raise security standards at West Africa’s Abidjan airport, which government officials hope will enable it to win TSA certification and turn the airport into an international hub for the continent.

Toronto-based Visual Defence and its subsidiary AviSecure won a passenger safety and security screening contract with the government of Ivory Coast to install security systems at the airport and implement new security management standards. The Abidjan airport lacks TSA certification, which prevents it from handling direct flights to the U.S. Travelers between North America and West Africa have to fly via London or Paris.

“We need to do some major training to meet TSA standards,” says Visual Defence CEO Dagan Sadeh. “It’s not just about security, it’s about everything, like complying with regulations and arriving at meetings on time. The challenge is to adapt to the western pattern of work.”

The project’s revenues, estimated at $140 and $250 million through 2032, are tied to passenger traffic. The more passengers transit through the airport, the more money Visual Defence will make. Winning TSA certification is the key to raising revenues, because this would turn Abidjan into the only airport in West Africa with direct flights to the US.

Ivory Coast was torn apart by coups and a two-year civil war. The airport was overrun during the fighting, and was only returned to government control after French troops recaptured it. Traffic fell by one-third to 800,000 passengers a year. Peace returned in March 2007 with the formation of a unity government.

Sadeh says technology will play a key role in instilling a new security culture at the airport. As in many African airports, well-connected travelers access aircraft directly, dispensing with security checks, customs, and passport control. Employees generally ignore security procedures. Africa has the world’s worst air safety record mainly because aircraft are poorly maintained, but also because of inadequate airport infrastructure and security. 

Visual Defence’s system will force passengers and staff to observe security procedures. Pushing into a secure area in the terminal or breaching perimeter security would automatically trigger alarms. “An integrated command and control center will help people understand procedures and implement policies,” says Sadeh. “The system will make life tougher for people who want to get around it.”

Visual Defence is a security convergence company. Its Common Management Platform is a software system that ties all security systems into a single common interface. A workflow engine runs in the background to allow staff to manage security procedures. The project includes risk assessment, security strategy development, and procuring, installing, and integrating security technology. The company will also hire, train, and manage airport security personnel.

AviSecure Inc., a 50-50 joint venture owned by Visual Defence and SkyLink Security (Canada) Inc., will manage the project directly. AviSecure handles airport security outsourcing projects around the world.



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