The future of passenger security screening at the Ottawa airport


Major changes are coming to the organization tasked with airport security screening – a move aviation officials hope will be the first step towards a more seamless “curb-to-cabin” experience for passengers.

The federal government recently announced plans to transition the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), a Crown corporation created in the wake of 9/11, into an independent not-for-profit entity regulated by Transport Canada.

Operating under a similar model as NAV Canada, a new screening authority has the potential to shorten lineups, make increased use of advanced technology and place a greater focus on customer service – all while maintaining a highly secure system staffed by well-trained professionals.

“Airports will be relentless in demanding that passenger screening service standards be world-class,” says Mark Laroche, the president and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority.

While CATSA successfully operates a secure screening system, its current funding and governance model can hinder its ability to act nimbly and establish long-term goals, Laroche says.

Under the proposed changes, the new screening agency will be overseen by a nominated board of directors that includes representatives from airlines and airport authorities. Laroche – who also chairs the large airports caucus of the Canadian Airports Council – says this will allow the industry to set outcome-based targets. This is common at airports in other countries, such as London Heathrow Airport, which has performance standards that include screening 95 per cent of passengers in five minutes or less.

The new model would also allow the board to direct the new screening authority to invest in R&D. As an illustration, Laroche mentions innovations in minimally intrusive screening technology and gives the hypothetical example of floor-based sensors that scan luggage as passengers roll their bags down a corridor.

Laroche is also keen to see the new agency explore intelligence-driven, risk- based approaches to passenger screening that leverages existing trusted traveller programs. This could see, for example, a passenger on a last-minute, one-way ticket to a conflict zone face more scrutiny than a frequent flyer enrolled in the Nexus program.

It all adds up to a dramatic rethink of how passengers are screened.

“The new screening authority will be just as secure, but with a greater emphasis on the customer experience,” Laroche says. “We want passengers to travel from the curb (outside the terminal) to the aircraft cabin as seamlessly as possible.”