Open Letter: Removing bottlenecks at Canada's airports to usher post-pandemic recovery
The following letter was submitted in joint partnership with the Canadian Global Cities Council on May 11, 2022 to Minister Omar Alghabra, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, and Minister Marco Mendicino.
Hon. Omar Alghabra, MP Minister of Transport
Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, MP Minister of Health
Hon. Marco Mendicino, MP Minister of Public Safety
Re: Airport Challenges
As organizations representing thousands of businesses across Canada’s major cities, we are writing to you regarding heightened challenges at our airports that pose a clear threat to still-vulnerable economic recovery in our cities.
We are pleased that the government has recently lifted travel restrictions, making it easier for Canadians to travel abroad, and for visitors to come to Canada once more. We wholeheartedly welcome these changes and can assure the government that they are directly contributing to a welcome rebound in travel and tourism, supporting our local economies. Our cities depend on a thriving travel and tourism sector, and we are encouraged that demand continues to increase.
As travel has returned and Canadians are reconnecting with others across Canada and the world, we are increasingly concerned about the processes, procedures, and staffing constraints that are causing significant gridlock in our airports.
After two years of added public health measures, Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers continue to be required to ask health screening questions and implement several manual processes. While other countries have automated and/or eliminated their arrivals processes, Canada still requires the original slow, manual, and labour-intensive procedures. Pre-pandemic it took an officer, on average, 30 seconds to process an international-arriving passenger. Today, the process can take one to two minutes—two to four times longer than pre-pandemic. We urge the government to reconsider their policies in this regard and utilize technology to streamline the process, while maintaining public health and safety.
In addition, Canada’s airports are facing acute and ongoing security screening bottlenecks due to a lack of Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) contracted screening staff, resulting in poor preboard screening capacity and travellers experiencing hours-long delays and line-ups that span entire airports. The delays are also impacting the flow of goods and cargo across our country and beyond, which further impacts the ability of Canadian businesses to effectively engage in trade and do business. We are calling on government to immediately work with the aviation industry and CATSA to build a workable plan to return to adequate pre-board screening service levels for travellers before the busy summer travel season and engage on necessary policy and regulatory changes to improve the screening model over the long term.
The challenges at Canada’s airports are impeding the economic recovery of the businesses that have been most acutely impacted by pandemic travel restrictions. Over four-fifths of Canadian businesses in the tourism sector, most of them small businesses, experienced a decrease in revenue in 2020, compared with three-fifths of all businesses. It is estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic cost the largest Canadian airports more than $2.2 billion in lost revenues in a single year. Airports are critical national resources that facilitate trade, travel, and commerce across our country, and contribute billions to GDP.
The growing bottlenecks present a clear and present danger to post-pandemic recovery since they place our airports far outside of international service standards and traveller expectations. Canada’s airports, travellers, and impacted businesses need support to respond to returning demand. We urgently need to reduce delays and continue facilitating travel. We urge the government to work with CATSA to ensure it has the staffing capacity to meet travel demand now and in the future, while ensuring that the right model is in place for the service and security of Canadians.
We also urge the government to work with the United States to ensure that U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffing and capacity at pre-clearance sites return to pre-pandemic levels. We ask that the government work proactively with industry to streamline the pre- and post-departure screening processes, balancing safety and security with high service standards.
Thank you for your collective efforts to support the health and safety of Canadians and our businesses during the pandemic. We look forward to continued collaboration and welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters further.
ABOUT THE CALGARY CHAMBER
The Calgary Chamber exists to help businesses thrive. As the convenor and catalyst for a vibrant, inclusive, and prosperous business community, the Chamber works to build strength and resilience among its members and position Calgary as a magnet for talent, diversification, and opportunity. As an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization, we build on our 131-year history to serve and advocate for businesses of all sizes, in all sectors, and across the city.
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