Canadian Airlines Want System to Speed Airport Security

OTTAWA -- A coalition of Canadian airlines and airports is putting pressure on Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon to adopt a biometric travel screening program that would allow passengers to "fast track" through airport security and avoid hassles like taking off their shoes, coats and removing laptops from their cases before boarding planes.

The voluntary program, which is currently in place at several major U.S. airports, relies on iris and fingerprint scans to identify passengers and quickly move them through airport security. The biometric screening system is seen as a way to significantly reduce line-ups and other delays that have become a major hassle for passengers, particularly those who travel frequently, according to the coalition, which includes Air Canada, WestJet, as well as the Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton airport authorities.

"It's just another service to passengers," said Scott Armstrong, spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. "Obviously, people are always looking for ways to make the whole airport process quicker."

Although some Canadian airports have expressed interest in the biometric screening, the federal government has to approve such a program before it can be up and running in Canada. That's because TransportCanada would have to conduct the background checks on interested applicants, and Canadian Air Transport Security Authority employees would likely be responsible for helping passengers with biometric cards at the airport.

When passengers are approved for the program, they receive a card that comes equipped with a microchip containing their biometric data that they must bring to the airport and scan on a machine, similar toa bank machine. Passengers with biometric cards would be able to wait in separate lines that have specialized security equipment, enabling them to pass through security checkpoints quickly and easily.

Adopting such a system, also known as a registered traveller program, "would enhance aviation security while improving the passengers' experience in the airport," says a letter sent to Cannon's office last month by the group of Canadian airlines and airports.

The group argues the federal government wouldn't have to spend anymoney on the screening program, because it would be paid for by the private sector. Furthermore, any Canadians that wanted to use a biometric screening card would have to pay for the service.

There is currently one company, called Clear, which operates the biometric screening program for about 45,000 passengers in the U.S. Although the GTAA has already signed an agreement with Clear for a similar program here, nothing can move forward until the federal government decides whether or not to approve it.

A spokeswoman for Cannon's office as well as CATSA said the federal government is currently reviewing the program to see if it can be implemented here.

-- CanWest News Service

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