Review panel finds long lines, high fees at Canadian airports

A review panel has concluded Canadians are not getting enough in return for the fees they pay to cover security in airports, which are plagued by long lines and “declining performance.

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The review of the Canada Transportation Act, conducted by a panel at the request of former transport minister Lisa Raitt, says change is needed for the country’s airports to remain competitive.

The report says Canada’s airport security agency, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), has poorer performance than security screeners in the U.K.

It notes that CATSA screens only 87 per cent of passengers within 15 minutes, while Britain's Heathrow Airport is expected screen 95 per cent of passengers within five minutes or less.

In January, Heathrow Airport met that target in all five of its terminals.

CATSA’s relatively poor performance is despite the fact Canadians “already pay one of the highest aviation security fees in the world” -- nearly $15 per domestic flight and just over $25 for international flight for the Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC).

Canada Transportation Act

A chart from the Canada Transportation Act review shows a comparison of historic and forecast CATSA funding and ATSC revenues.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that on average 18 per cent more is collected in security fees than the government spends on CATSA.

Another part of the problem, according to the report, is that “Transport Canada’s control over regulation and policies leaves too little room for (CATSA) to adjust its operations and procedures.”

That has caused CATSA to “become relatively closed to outside criticism and new ideas that might otherwise help it to find innovative ways to maintain higher service levels.”

Among other things, the panel recommends the government:

  • scrap CATSA altogether and create a single security agency “for both regulatory oversight and operations”
  • legislate “regulated performance standards, benchmarked against those in competing international jurisdictions”
  • provide “stable and predictable financing for aviation security, from both the Air Travellers Security Charge and general revenues “
  • and “replace the current “one size fits all” passenger screening approach, which treats all passengers equally, with an intelligence-driven, risk-based passenger screening process.”

The report also says Canadian airlines are hurt by high airport rents charged by the federal government, which are driving up costs and pushing passengers to U.S. airports.

“Canada is unique among its competitors in charging onerous rents and taxes that undermine competitiveness,” the panel found.

“Airport rents, for example, can represent up to 30 percent of airport operating budgets, far more than would be expected in dividends and income tax from a private, for-profit airport, such as those in Europe.”

One option, according to the panel, is to fully privatize airports like the U.K. has done. Another option they suggest be considered is privatizing just the operations of the airport, like in Australia.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says he is considering the recommendations. "I think most people agree sometimes those queues seem to be too long,” he said. “It is part of satisfaction for people going on flights so it is something we'll be paying attention to."

With a report from CTV National Parliamentary Correspondent Glen McGregor



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