The underfunding of government services needed to support strong growth in air traffic is the single biggest issue facing Canadian airport operators, with security screening at the top of the list, says Daniel-Robert Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council (CAC).
“We’ve seen growth in excess of six per cent in traveller numbers so far this year to date compared to last year, and we expect that to continue for the foreseeable future, so it’s imperative that CATSA in particular is adequately funded in the next federal budget,” he says.
CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency, is responsible for security screening at Canada’s airports and is funded by the federal government, but there’s a structural problem with the way it’s funded, adds Mr. Gooch.
“The Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) is supposed to fund the system, but it goes directly into the Treasury. As part of the budgetary process, CATSA, the airports and the Minister of
Transport must ask every year for more and more to fund a service that travellers believe they are paying for. This just doesn’t suit the needs of the dynamic, fast-growing industry that air transport has proven to be over the last few years,” says Mr. Gooch.
While there have been discussions in recent months on ways to permanently address the structural funding challenges in the longer term, CAC has some very real concerns about ensuring that the system be adequately funded for next year, he adds.
One approach favoured by CAC until long-term structural reforms are in place is to use all the money raised by the ATSC to fund CATSA.
“We don’t know if it would be sufficient for CATSA to provide the service that travellers expect – there’s not a lot of transparency around the funding that’s raised by the ATSC, or the cost of delivering a more competitive service of this standard – so we only see part of the picture and don’t know what the resource demands are,” says Mr. Gooch.
But one thing the airports do know is that passengers believe security screening delays are getting longer. Recent polling by CAC showed that 57 per cent of Canadians believe the wait time at security checkpoints has become worse over the past five years.
“One of the challenges we face is that many people don’t necessarily understand how airports are organized and who does what,” he says. “A lot of travellers think the federal government still runs the airports and the airports provide the security services. So, in some cases, the government doesn’t wear the problem.”
Mr. Gooch says CATSA’s current target of processing 85 per cent of passengers in under 15 minutes is not being met. One of the problems is that the 85 per cent in fifteen minutes is an average over time, which means many travellers are waiting longer than that.
“And we are hearing from airports that CATSA is not even meeting the target of 85 per cent in 15 minutes during the busiest times of the year,” he adds.
Mr. Gooch acknowledges that CATSA has tried to make the system more efficient and do more with less.
“But when growth in passenger numbers is at the level it has now reached, efficiencies can only go so far. You need to staff the positions as well,” he adds.
CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque says while CATSA does not currently have a government-mandated service level standard for wait times, over the last three years, it has maintained or exceeded a service level of processing 85 per cent of passengers waiting in line in 15 minutes or less on average at Class I airports.
“We do everything we can to reduce lineups,” he says. “For example, agreements were put in place on a trial basis with Toronto and Vancouver airports to allow them to purchase additional screening capacity from CATSA for pre-board screening operations. Our data indicates that these pilot projects are having a positive effect on wait times.”
Mr. Larocque says CATSA also works with Transport Canada and industry partners to improve security screening efficiency by developing, testing and deploying innovative new concepts such as the CATSA Plus automated screening lanes now in operation at some Canadian airports.
About the CAC
The Canadian Airports Council (CAC) has 51 members operating more than 100 airports across Canada, including all the non-governmentally operated National Airports System (NAS) airports. The CAC was founded in 1991 after the control of airports was transferred from the Government of Canada to local entities, which manage, operate and fund airports under long-term leases. CAC member airports handle more than 90 per cent of the commercial air traffic in Canada, and an even greater share of international traffic.
To view entire report visit globeandmail.com