Summer is a time when millions of Canadians take to the skies for summer vacations and the country welcomes a significant influx of international visitors. Canada’s airports have prepared, but a lack of government resources to support security screening and border crossing means millions of travellers will wait longer at airports.
Airports are the first and last impression that visitors have of our country. Airports also facilitate trade and support incredible economic development. Airports are gateways to facilitating potential for the hundreds of thousands employed in the growing Canadian tourism sector. They make our communities more attractive to businesses looking to invest and create jobs — some 194,000 direct jobs at airports and hundreds of thousands more throughout the economy.
Canada’s airports have seen massive passenger growth in recent years. Canadian airports worked with other service providers to bring in more than 11.3 million travellers from the U.S. and overseas last year, which is 7.3 per cent higher than the year before.
Airports promote connectivity and have invested more than $9.1 billion in the last five years alone into infrastructure and process improvements to get travellers and their
bags through safely and comfortably. However, the experience at security screening and at border crossings is degrading the impact of these investments, with millions of passengers unhappily waiting in long lines.
With the launch of Transportation 2030, Transport Minister Marc Garneau declared in 2016 that he would improve the traveller experience and introduce better security screening service standards to reduce lineups and delays. He also promised to address the consumers’ “frustration at the cost of air travel within Canada.” With the busy summer almost here, travellers are still waiting to see concrete action.
Reporting to the Minister of Transport, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is the crown corporation that screens passengers at 89 airports. It receives funding from the government with the objective of screening 85 per cent of passengers in 15 minutes. The problem with this is that it is well below internationally competitive standards and thousands of travellers wait up to an hour at peak travel times. The same is true at border crossings at Canada’s largest airports.
Canada’s largest airports have been “topping up” CATSA with their own funds, but even with this cash infusion, passengers are waiting too long, and there’s a fear this summer will be even worse.
Bill C-49 will formalize the ability of airports to pay for CATSA labour screening hours and equipment. While airports welcome this business flexibility, they’re left wondering why they should bear this added cost for security screening when governments are already collecting an Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) from passengers. Any additional costs transferred from government to airports must be passed on to users, including travellers; meaning, passengers will be paying twice and still end up in long lines.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is facing similar challenges processing the growing number of international arriving passengers at our largest airports. Too often, after a long international flight, passengers are greeted by a lengthy wait to be processed by CBSA, sometimes being kept aboard aircraft because of full customs halls.
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. This includes initiatives such as the $6 million invested by Aéroports de Montréal last summer to improve border processes for arriving and connecting passengers and the millions of dollars Class 1 airports have invested in Primary Inspection Kiosks.
While airports are making these investments, government resources for CBSA and CATSA should also keep pace with passenger growth if Canadian airports are to remain competitive.
Without additional government resources for airport security screening and border crossings, Canadians and visitors to Canada can expect to wait in long line ups this summer. This is not the promise that Minister Garneau made in 2016, and it’s definitely not the experience airports want for travellers.