The Honourable Omar Alghabra, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Transport
330 Sparks Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N5
On behalf of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), I want to thank you and your government for the recent revisions to COVID-19 policies impacting Canadian borders and air transportation workers, along with the addition of new Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) screening officers. Suspending mandatory random testing for vaccinated travellers, ending the vaccination mandate for those who work in air transportation, and the addition of new screening officers will certainly contribute to improving passenger facilitation at Canadian airports and help restore Canada’s reputation as a place to do business and visit.
However, as GBTA commends these actions, we encourage you to expediously address several other issues including staffing at inspection points operated by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP). Without addressing these issues, GBTA believes that your recent positive actions will not be able to realize their full potential.
Passenger facilitation at any airport is a complex activity that depends on many entities including federal government agencies, air carriers and the airport itself, to work together to ensure the safety and security of not only passengers but the country. GBTA recognizes the challenge faced by the federal government to ensure that the Canadian air transportation system remains safe and secure while still providing for the efficient movement of travellers, domestically and internationally. In this regard, the role and actions of the government and its agencies have a considerable impact – and might even have the greatest impact – on the movement of travellers as they seek to balance these important interests.
There are several areas in passenger facilitation that rely exclusively on the role of government and its
agencies. One area that requires remedy is the movement of passengers through arrivals halls at Canadian airports that are often at capacity. Movement of these passengers are subject to the ability of CBSA officers to process travellers in a timely manner while they perform duties related to immigration and security. This is no easy task when air carriers often concentrate arrivals at certain times in the day. However, if the government accepts that travel – both business travel and tourism – is a considerable economic contributor, it must invest in providing more officers to boost throughput, and reduce air carrier delays at gates and on the tarmac that result in major network disruptions in the form of delays and cancelations.
While programs such as Global Entry and Nexus have eased the burden on CBSA officers by directing
passengers past primary CBSA screening, more officers are still required to deal with growing travel demand and passenger volumes. This was true of pre-pandemic passenger projections and certainly applies today as travel demand is returning at an incredible rate. Staffing at CBSA is a legacy issue, but in today’s post-pandemic recovery environment, it is having a disproportionate impact and hindering air carriers’ ability to provide reliable travel schedules, including for those in transit that require efficient processing to ensure they are able to make connecting flights. The current experience is a strong deterrent for both those considering doing business in Canada or simply visiting. The federal government must immediately address this issue if it wants to repair the reputation of our airports. Otherwise, travellers for business and tourism will avoid Canada as a destination for years to come.
Staffing is also a concern at US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) inspection points at Pearson
International Airport. Insufficient staffing at these inspections points also causes long queues throughout the airport and leads to cancelled flights, missed connections, and other negative impacts to air carrier schedules and the passenger experience. While many stakeholders, including GBTA, lobby USCBP to improve staffing levels in Canada, no stakeholder is more influential in this relationship than the Canadian Federal Government. Improving this issue primarily depends on government-to-government dialogue, and GBTA encourages you to prioritize a request for more USCBP officers at your next bilateral meeting. GBTA recognizes that this is a significant request, but we believe it accurately reflects the loss of future business opportunities if the current environment continues.
GBTA recognizes that the federal government has been actively trying to improve the issues at our borders and airports, however, priority must be directed to these issues in an urgent manner. While business travel numbers are returning, the labor shortages that exacerbate facilitation delays are causing uncertainty and dampening projections. If these issues are not addressed, Canada risks being overlooked by the world as a place to do business and visit and, as we learned from the pandemic, this is not a sector that Canadians and the Canadian economy can do without.
Regional Vice President, The Americas
Global Business Travel Association