Government Services for Security Screening and the Border
Canada’s airports are seeing massive passenger growth, with more than 149 million passengers last year a 6% increase over the year before. International travellers are the fastest growing. While airports host many services from many stakeholders, the federal government ultimately controls processes, staffing and budgets related to passenger facilitation both at screening and at international arrivals, through the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
CATSA receives funding from the government to screen a national average of 85% of passengers in 15 minutes, which is below internationally competitive standards and leaves millions of travellers waiting too long. Airports and air carriers have called upon government to develop and furnish an internationally competitive wait time standard to ensure that 95% of travelers wait no longer than 10 minutes to be screened and no one waits more than 20 minutes. While the federal government says it will fix the problem, no tangible action has been taken nor any timetable provided for a decision.
While the Transportation Modernization Act has formalized the ability for more airports to pay for CATSA labour screening hours and equipment, this would shoulder airports with unbudgeted costs for services the Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) passenger levy was created to fund. Most airports are unable to afford this without having to raise costs to users.
Meanwhile, a partial solution has been created but not yet fully deployed. CATSA Plus screening lanes combine technological and procedural enhancements to increase flow, enhance security, and improve the experience for travellers. Airports are investing millions in infrastructure to accommodate CATSA Plus, but deployment has been quite limited with further implementation stalled due to a lack of funding.
At our air borders, international arriving travellers want to feel welcomed. Airports have invested $40 million in the past six years in border automation and infrastructure changes to facilitate the smoother and more efficient processing of passengers. Despite this and best efforts to meet the growth in demand, international arriving travellers continue to see long CBSA waits at some airports. This includes travellers sometimes being kept aboard aircraft because of full customs halls.
Small Airport Safety Infrastructure
It was recognized with the National Airports Policy in the 1990s that smaller airports have challenges raising funds to sustain operations and investments to maintain critical infrastructure and meet ever evolving safety and security regulations.
The Airport Capital Assistance Program (ACAP) was develop to help offset the challenges faced by smaller airports to keep pace with their infrastructure and equipment needs. While the complexity and sophistication of regulatory requirements has increased over the years, ACAP funding has not. In fact, ACAP’s total funding envelope has not increased in 18 years.
Airports therefore are calling on the government to make improve access and funding to all small airports that require it.