Wait times for passengers at airport security checkpoints have grown so long that at least two major airports are paying Ottawa millions of dollars for extra officers to help reduce the lineups.
The international airports in Toronto and Vancouver have each signed contracts with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) that give them additional screening resources, even as the agency absorbs another cut in its budget this year.
The airports have taken direct action after wait times started to get much longer in 2014 because of cuts to CATSA’s budget that have continued this year.
The 2017 Liberal budget quietly chopped the passenger screening budget by another $10 million, despite an increase in passenger volumes and in the wages of screening officers.
“Security screening is one of the major causes of passenger dissatisfaction at Toronto Pearson and at most airports, where wait times are significantly longer than at many other major international airports,” said Robin Smith, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.
“At peak times, passengers waited more than 60 minutes for screening services” in 2016, he said.
An internal briefing note from Transport Canada chronicles how CATSA’s budget was steadily cut between 2009 and 2015.
“As a result, CATSA’s budget for 2016-17 and ongoing is reduced from originally allocated levels by a total of $92.5 million,” says the 2016 document, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.
“In recent years, passenger volumes and screening contractors’ billing rates have each increased by approximately three per cent annually without CATSA’s reference levels keeping pace.
“Combined, these factors have effectively reduced the level of resources available to meet the growing demand, and, as a result, the level of service has begun to fall.”
The Stephen Harper government in 2015 topped up CATSA’s pre-board screening budget with a one-time infusion of $26.8 million to alleviate wait times, without increasing the base budget.
No legislated standard
The first Liberal budget in 2016 gave the agency a one-time addition of $29 million to deal with wait times, but then reduced the amount to $19 million in this year’s budget.
There is no legislated standard for wait…