Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bali Airport Axes Biometric Checks Over Long Delays

Made Arya Kencana & Nurfika Osman

Denpasar. Customs officials have pulled the plug on biometric checks of foreign nationals arriving at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali after less than a month, following an outcry over long queues and the threat of losing revenue.

The Border Control Management system, which includes fingerprinting and photographing of short-stay visitors, was suspended on May 2 on the orders of Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar.

“We don’t know if it will be revived later,” Ngurah Rai Immigration Office administrative head Wilopo said on Tuesday.

He said the system, introduced on April 22, had led to inordinately long lines at immigration counters. Wilopo said the new process took just 30 seconds longer but with daily tourist arrivals of up to 5,000, the accrued delays had forced many to wait in line for hours.

Those picking up visitors at the airport have also complained of the increased waiting times.

“I once had guests whose flight landed at 11 p.m. but who did not leave the airport until 3 a.m.,” tour guide Putu Sumatika said.

Tuesday’s announcement comes a day after Japan Airlines said it would cancel its routes to Bali by Oct. 1. Japanese account for the third-largest number of visitors to Bali, after Australians and Chinese.

The end of the twice-daily flights from Japan is expected to cost the airport management Rp 150 million ($16,500) a day.

Heru Legowo, general manager of airport operator PT Angkasa Pura I, said he had predicted the system would spell trouble.

“Even before we had the BCM, the lines were pretty long,” he said. “So you can imagine what it was like with the BCM.”

Heru said the problem had been worse from the afternoon onwards, when most international flights arrived.

“Obviously the immigration office didn’t think this through,” he said. “They should do more legwork so that next time they implement a new system it doesn’t cause more problems.”

With the BCM decommissioned, officials will go back to just scanning visitors’ passports.

Maroloan Barimbing, spokesman for the ministry’s Directorate General of Immigration, told Jakarta Globe the BCM had to be suspended because the airport had too much traffic.

“Visitors are too crowded in Bali and we are adding more immigration counters and a waiting room there,” he said. “We are trying to do it as soon as possible. “Please don’t say this is not functioning because this is all we need to get the system working.”

BCM is in use at three other international airports, including Jakarta, where the same long queues have also been plaguing passengers.

Maroloan said the BCM system was now being installed at Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport in Aceh and that it was scheduled to be installed at 27 airports and seaports by the end of July.

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