Airport lines grow longer despite better pre-clearance
Passenger screening wait times increasing: CATSA
Written byElizabeth Thompson
Monday, May 23rd, 2016
Waiting times for passenger screening at Canadian airports have been growing and they are going to get longer unless the federal government increases funding, warns the agency that oversees aviation security.
In a summary of its corporate report, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) says the combination of government budget restrictions, rising costs for the companies contracted to do the screening and an increasing number of passengers have been taking their toll.
The result is that the percentage of passengers who make it through security screening in under 15 minutes has been steadily dropping, from 96.8 per cent of passengers in the first quarter of 2013/14 to 85.9 per cent of passengers in the fourth quarter of 2014/15.
That means 6.4 million passengers waited more than 15 minutes in 2014/15, up from 3.7 million passengers in 2013/14. The number of passengers who had to wait 30 minutes or longer in the line up to be screened jumped from 19,000 in 2012/13 to 382,000 in 2014/15.
“In 2012/13, CATSA was able to screen 96 per cent of passengers waiting 15 minutes or less,” said the report. “CATSA’s purchasing power for screening hours decreased in 2014/15 over its 2013/14 and 2012/13 levels due to increasing screening contractor billing rates. Coupled with rising passenger volumes, this resulted in passenger wait times increasing in 2014/15.”
The number of people flying through Canadian airports has been rising and Transport Canada has projected it will continue to rise, increasing the number of people who have to go through security before they board a flight.
CATSA screened 47.7 million passengers in 2010/11. That rose to 51 million passengers in 2012/13 and 53.7 million in 2013/14. In 2014/15 the number of passengers to be screened rose another 6.1 per cent with an increase of 8.4 per cent at Toronto International Airport.
“By the end of 2015/16, CATSA is forecast to screen 55.9 million passengers,” says the report. “By 2019/20, passenger volumes are expected to reach approximately 62.8 million.”
The federal government does not set a service standard level for passenger wait times.
While the federal government agreed in April 2015 to provide one-year funding of $26.8 million to keep wait times below 15 minutes for 88 per cent of passengers in major airports, CATSA is projecting wait times are going to get even longer in the future.
“This funding is for 2015/16 and after this fiscal year, CATSA’s reference levels (funding) will revert to what was set out in Budget 2010,” says the report.
“Given its current reference levels and expected passenger growth and billing rate increases, CATSA’s Pre-Board Screening Wait Time Impact Model is forecasting longer passenger wait times in 2016/17 reflecting CATSA’s declining purchasing power starting in 2016/17.”
After cabinet approved CATSA’s corporate plan, the 2016 budget gave it another top up to help mitigate wait times for this year.
CATSA says it is working with Transport Canada to keep wait times down but the report does not say just how bad CATSA believes they could get in future years if its budget doesn’t rise to meet the demand.
As it takes passengers longer to clear security, complaints rise, the report points out.
“As CATSA’s wait times increase, passenger satisfaction decreases and complaints increase.”
CATSA says it has shortened the amount of time it takes to screen each passenger but it has reached the limit.
“Gains in efficiencies through process improvements and regulatory changes have allowed CATSA to substantially increase the number of passengers processed per hour. However after successive operational and organizational reviews, meaningful gains in efficiency sufficient to offset the growing pressures are likely no longer feasible.”
One of the solutions CATSA has experimented with to reduce wait times is allowing airport authorities like Toronto’s to pay to get additional screening hours. CATSA and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority reached an agreement in October 2014 to add four extra screeners to reduce wait times and CATSA is working with the GTAA to extend the agreement.
In Edmonton, CATSA has been experimenting with tracking sensors and eGates to free up scanning personnel for more important jobs.
“With this concept, passengers will self-scan their boarding pass at the eGate, which will allow them entry into the queuing area, while tracking sensors in the ceiling will monitor wait times and queue lengths,” says the report. “The trial went live in February 2015. Preliminary results are promising with what appears to be a high level of acceptance from passengers and screening officers.”
In Ottawa, a remote screening program began in September 2014.
“Remote screening uses networking capabilities to locate a group of X-ray operators within a separately located operator room, thereby allowing for better load-balancing,” the report explained. “The trial demonstrated that a remote screening system can be successfully deployed at a Pre-Board Screening checkpoint for live screening.”