Federal privatization of airport security is delayed indefinitely due to the pandemic, the Senate national finance committee was told yesterday. Parliament voted in 2019 to transfer all airport screening to not-for-profit buyers.
“We are waiting,” said Michael Saunders, CEO of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority. The Security Screening Services Commercialization Act mandated the sale of the agency responsible for passenger and baggage screening at 89 federally-regulated airports. Saunders said a consortium of airlines and airport managers had been in negotiation to buy the agency.
“It is our understanding that due to the ongoing pandemic the consortium of airports and air carriers that make up the designated screening authority and Transport Canada have deferred this, or at least pushed the decision to negotiate down the field or delayed it to a certain extent,” said Saunders.
“Negotiations may occur this year,” testified Nancy Fitchett, chief financial officer with the Security Authority. “May occur,” said Senator Pat Duncan (Yukon). “Is there a chance these negotiations may be put in abeyance while we cope with Covid-19?” “Yes it is possible,” replied CEO Saunders.
Saunders said negotiations had occurred “to a certain extent” but appeared to have lapsed. “If in fact the negotiations do continue, I think one has to recognize the precarious state of finances of both airports and the air carriers in the current pandemic,” said Saunders. “We will wait to see what transpires.”
Airlines protested the privatization last year was rushed – the measure was inserted without notice in a 392-page omnibus budget bill – and threatened to raise security charges on passengers. “The consequences are simple: increased costs of air travel,” Ferio Pugliese, Air Canada senior vice-president, testified at 2019 hearings of the Commons transport committee.
“Air Canada supports this Canadian Air Transport Security Authority reform done right, which means consultation and careful consideration of legislation must take place,” said Pugliese. “While this reform is welcomed, Air Canada cautions that in order to get it right, it must be done in a thoughtful, well-planned and fiscally responsible manner.”
Costs of screening are paid by a mandatory Air Travelers’ Security Charge of $15 for a domestic roundtrip ticket and $26 on international flights. The federal treasury has earned net profits of $150 million or more annually on security fees.
At 2019 hearings of the Senate transport committee, one legislator said the privatization looked like a “toll booth operation”. “What about the consumers?” asked Senator Dennis Dawson (Que.). “Consumers are being left out.”
Pat Van Horne
United Steelworkers’ Legislative Representative/Permanente bureau législatif