Canada's airlines want their crews to be exempted from proposed U.S. rules that would force them to go through high-tech fingerprint screening, an extra layer of airport security that the carriers fear will delay flights.
Canadian pilots and flight attendants already undergo rigorous security checks, and it would be inefficient to add yet another U.S. entry hurdle for "low-risk" aviation workers, said the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents the country's carriers.
ATAC policy vice-president Fred Gaspar said Canadian airlines are worried that their flight crews will face disruptions in the U.S. inspection process, creating delays on the tarmac as pilots take time to exit and re-enter the cockpit.
"Pilots from Canada in some instances don't even get off the plane. In future in the U.S., they would have to leave the plane, line up for security, do the fingerprint screening and then get back on the plane. It may only take 10 seconds for the scanning, but the rest is a time-consuming operation," Gaspar said.
The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is proposing to fingerprint and photograph an estimated 200,000 Canadians from a range of backgrounds, including flight crews, nurses, athletes, entertainers, students, journalists and religious workers. The deadline expired last week for submitting comments to US-VISIT about the planned changes affecting entry by air or sea, and program planners are now reviewing final details. No date has been set yet for implementation.
US-VISIT - devised in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - emphasizes that the vast majority of Canadians on shopping trips or vacations to the U.S. won't have to submit to the digital scans upon entry. But it argues that new measures are necessary by making it much harder for criminals to engage in identity theft.
The digital information will be used to create a database to verify that a person carrying travel documents is truly that person.
"Fingerprints would be taken of the left and right index fingers, and a photograph taken of the person. That would become part of their travel record," US-VISIT spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman said from Washington.
"Flight crews would automatically have their own lineup, and the digital scanning time would take five or 10 seconds of time. They place their hand on a digital glass plate. It's inkless, very clean and easy."
The proposal aims to enhance security while helping to speed up travel time, Weissman said.
However, in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, Gaspar warned that if Canadian airline crew members are included in the beefed-up security screening, it "will have a dramatic negative impact on the operational and commercial realities of our industry."
Transport Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police already screen pilots and flights attendants for Canadian identification cards, and crew lists are provided 48 hours in advance to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Flight crews are also interviewed by U.S. customs officials at major Canadian airports prior to departure to the United States.
"In light of these multiple and layered security screening processes, which are already applicable to Canadian crew operating into the United States, we are left to wonder as to the marginal value provided by" US-VISIT's new inspection proposal, Gaspar wrote.
The U.S. plan threatens to upset transborder airline schedules and "seemingly offers no tangible security value," he added.
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