Jim Facette
CI: Airport Security
Jul 15, 2008

Our Editor, Clive Addy, recently conducted an interview with Mr. Jim Facette, President and CEO of the Canadian Airports Council to get an update on the state of security at the airports in Canada.

Q:What are the major accomplishments in ensuring the Security of Canadians at our airports since 2001?

As you know, much has changed at airports, big and small, across Canada since September 2001. Our federal government, with its first National Security Policy followed by its Critical Infrastructure Position Paper and the creation of CATSA, changed the focus at all airports. All are aware, I am sure, that since December 2005, there is the heavy bag search and security for all passengers at all airports across the land. We also have, across Canada, a common system in our airports for controlling and restricting access of airport employees to certain areas where indeed their work calls them, and not general access to all parts.

Q:What other security work is in progress at airports besides the baggage... what about cargo?

Cargo is indeed a major challenge, and remains a work in progress.  Our principle is to secure cargo at source wherever possible before it even gets to the airport. We have, with key carriers and shippers of cargo by air, developed a method of doing this, through regulated accreditation of ­certified shippers such as FedEx and other similar major shippers. The system is clear and compliance is verified. Where we still need work is the certification and screening of cargo on mixed passenger and small package shipment flights.

Q:What do you see as major security challenges, not only terrorism, which seems to take an inordinate spotlight, but in crime and smuggling for instance, at and through our large and smaller airports?

As you quite rightly point out, a lot of public focus is on terrorism, but crime and smuggling do indeed present other serious security challenges at our airports. They can corrupt our employees and threaten passengers if violence and crime are perceived as being uncontrolled in these very public of places. We have had, for long time, sensors around the perimeter of our airports and all the land is indeed federal and access is posted as being strictly controlled.

You may have read of the dangerous practice by some journalists of pulling off a stunt of sneaking under a fence. This is very dangerous and future such acts will be ­punished with the full force under the law. Our agents and the police forces at the airports across Canada are trained and made much more vigilant in respect of these ­exterior and internal threats and risks. In the matter of the potential internal criminal threats, you may be aware of the recent arrest by the RCMP on June 4th of three food suppliers and the seizure of 60 kg of cocaine on site at the Montreal airport. This was the result of vigilance by airport employees and good police work.

We are also improving the mechanisms for restricting unauthorized access to all parts of the airport and changes will be occurring in this realm progressively across the country in the near future.

Q:Our airports are a major critical infrastructure across Canada. What measures have you taken or ­contemplated in the event of failure of other sectors such as hydro, water, gas food and cyber security breakdown at our airports? Are these potential threats assessed, and responses exercised?

Halifax Airport, gate entrance.

Indeed, our airports represent a major critical infrastructure. They are jointly owned and operated, with federal ownership of the real estate, NAVCAN control of the tower and flights, CATSA responsible for passenger screening, various police forces and security agencies contracted by the commercial airport authority to maintain law and order on the premises and the operation of the airport itself being done by our members. Add to this the various commercial tenants and the potential passengers and visitors and it is a complex mix of authorities and shareholders that must be satisfied that they operate in a secure environment. We have a series of redundant systems of redundant systems to cater to potential failures of all perceived types. The airport and aircraft travel industry has a culture of redundancies that I am happy to say, though not impermeable, offers a tremendous degree of reliability. For instance in the GTA we are integrated with local and provincial government resource industries into a myriad of power and other alternatives to ensure we stay in operation. Similar measures are taken across the country and all airports have undertaken a threat assessment to guide them on focusing limited resources to the needs. Airports conduct exercises to confirm their readiness in respect of these hazards normally every year but certainly every two years. These would involve airport staff, carriers, civilians on site, the various ­airport police and security forces, RCMP, hospitals and other related emergency responders.

Q:What support has been received by the airport authorities from the federal government and particularly Transport Canada to help mitigate and respond to these potential security threats at our ­airports?

As I am sure most are aware, airport authorities are private companies in the business of providing a service and making a profit.
Since 9/11 there have been many measures taken by the federal government such as CATSA and others on the premises of all airports across Canada. You are no doubt aware as well that the security tax on each airline ticket is used to pay for some of this. The remainder goes into the general revenue coffers of the federal government. There has been, however, no money provided to the airport authorities themselves for improved security, though major costs have been incurred through increased regulation in this area. We feel that there is some need to mitigate these costs to the airport authorities that should come from this security surcharge.  

Q:What do you think of having a con­sistent and uniform police system for airports as proposed by the Senate Com­­mittee on Security and National Defence?

The RCMP used to do this across Canada at all airports. Now a patch-work of solutions is found across the country that appears to best suit the situation to the satisfaction of airport authorities and their clients. For instance: in Halifax, the RCMP are contracted by the airport authority and fulfill this task largely through special constables; in Toronto Pearson, Peel Region police are contracted; in Montreal they have their own police with powers of arrest as peace officers. Whatever solution is taken will cost. If the RCMP provide a uniformity of service across the country it may cost more and provide more security that may be necessary in some places. At present, there does not seem much appetite on the airport operator’s part to pursue this as the benefit is deemed neither great nor obvious.   

© FrontLine Security 2008