Canadian Security Magazine

Airport screeners 2.0

Jennifer Brown   

Features Opinion

Last fall the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority decided it was going to get tougher on companies who want to win contracts screening Canada’s air travellers.

It notified the industry in October 2009 that it was going to be seeking new air passenger screening contractors and a new rigorous standard of qualification was issued to the market. The document, entitled CATSA Screening Contractor Management System Standard, outlines the steps.

This time around, only contractors who pass a tough re-qualification process will be able to compete in the CATSA RFP, probably in early 2011.

It establishes a list of criteria, and includes a qualification program that will create a directory of qualified organizations eligible to participate in future RFPs for screening services at designated Canadian airports, and be eligible to enter into screening services contracts.

CATSA has asked the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) to assess organizations against the standard.
Once a federal ministerial review of CATSA is finally complete, expected sometime this fall, the race will begin early next year as security screening contractors in Canada compete for work at Canada’s airports.

Some contract guard companies have already begun the process to be come CGSB approved. Those who have been through pre-qualification say it was a good process to go through, although arduous and at significant cost. One executive told me it was an opportunity for the company to validate processes and procedures.

It’s an expensive compliance process, but once a company has the baseline CGSB certification it means it may be able to leverage that for other contracts.

“We’re asking a lot of questions in the process. We will be tough on applicants,” said CATSA president McGarr, speaking at meeting of the Canadian Society for Industrial Security in Ottawa Sept. 20, noting that in the future screeners will need to strike a balance between threat identification and good customer service.

“The selection process we went through in 2003 is no longer relevant,” said McGarr. He said CATSA is going to the private sector and saying to potential contractors: “This is what we want, how do you plan to provide that? How will you ensure a degree of accountability? How will you make our operation more efficient? How will you engage a competent workforce?”

In part, McGarr said the government is looking for a solution generated by the security industry.

“We have every right to ask these questions,” he said. “And we would be short-changing ourselves not to allow the industry to tell us what they can bring to the table.”

Those participating in the RFP will no doubt be hoping that after the careful evaluation process the contract doesn’t go to the lowest bidder. But is CATSA in a position to pay more for an improved level of service? There’s also the question of consolidation. Currently there are 11 contractors providing screening across the country. Consolidation should also be a focus. Let’s hope the contractors selected will be properly compensated for what they have been asked to deliver.

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