Canadian Security Magazine

Boarding Pass Screening System comes to Canadian airports

Jennifer Brown   

News Transportation

The next time you go to a major airport in Canada you may find the security line up is moving a little faster than usual.

That’s because the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is investing $12.4 million (over four years) in a new security and customer service initiative with its Boarding Pass Security System (BPSS) which promises to provide better tracking of boarding passes and real-time data on how long it takes passengers to move through security lines at airports in Canada.

So far, the system has been rolled out to select Class 1 airports in Canada including Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary. By the end of the fiscal year BPSS will be available in Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax and next year in Winnipeg when that city’s new terminal opens.

The system was introduced to Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto in September 2010 and put to use over the holiday period.

The BPSS concept was developed a number of years ago in response to concerns about the use of duplicate boarding passes to access sterile areas. While convenient for passengers, the ability to print boarding passes at home and use mobile (electronic) boarding passes increases the potential for duplication.


To address this concern, CATSA developed a system that places bar code scanning technology in places in the security screening process. The fixed units found at the x-ray entrance are from Access IS based in the U.K., and the handheld scanners used by CATSA screeners at the beginning of the security queue are from Psion Teklogix of Mississauga, Ont. The overall system is hosted by IBM.

“We went to an RFP. IBM is hosting the system but Brock was the company who worked with us on the technology. They have extensive experience with airport and airline business and it was refined based on our findings when we first tested it in Calgary,” says Yves Ducharme, Director, Program Development with CATSA.

Passengers have their boarding passes scanned when they enter the queue using the Psion Teklogix wireless handheld device. The scan can validate the boarding pass and perform checks including date, time, airport, gate location and whether there are any duplicates in the system. If a passenger’s gate has changed since they first obtained their boarding pass, they can be notified of the change by the CATSA screener.

The passenger then waits in line and is scanned again at the front of a screening line just before the x-ray. The time stamps at each screening line provide accurate throughput statistics to the central CATSA office which then displays all wait times on a computer screen. The data is displayed in a dashboard format which then aids in managing passenger volume.

CATSA officials say the system will improve the security of airports and the customer service experience for passengers — something the industry has been trying to address for more than five years. It is hoped BPSS will  improve business for both the airport authorities and the airlines as the information gathered can give CATSA officials better information to do critical decision making when a problem occurs.

“If you have an alleged breach it’s an excellent tool. We’ve used it in the past and we know it will serve its purpose in a serious event,” says Iain Fernie, Regional Manager, Central Screening Operations with CATSA. “There’s a huge cost to the airlines when they are delayed due to security issues so this is going to help with that as well. Security is very important to the airlines and the flight attendants and pilots like what they see with this system.”

As CATSA officials monitor how long security lines are taking they can  make a decision to open up an additional screening line.

“It’s impossible to have zero wait time, but this way we can manage the lines that are active,” says Ducharme. “As soon as another line is open you see an immediate reaction.”

By monitoring the wait times CATSA can better manage the contract screening manpower used to staff the security lines.

“When we saw the potential in the system, we were able to convince the (CATSA) board of directors to grant us the money to proceed. We were in a trial phase in Montreal in 2009 where we had a pilot and tested different scanning equipment, then refined the process and when we presented the result of that pilot the board gave the go-ahead to deploy in three airports. Then they allowed us to get all the funding to go in all Class 1 airports,” says Ducharme.

The system can also keep track of how many 2D cellphone boarding pass scans are made, how many manual inputs were completed and how many paper passes are scanned.

Ducharme says the security line wait times will eventually be posted internally at the airports with the first digital signage display to be put in place at Pearson.

“Right the now the result can vary. We just need to make sure the process is done the same at each airport,” he says.

In the future, airlines will be able to use the system to find out if a passenger is at the departure gate or not — an important piece of information when a flight is trying to leave on time.

“They have really become a supporter of what we’re doing,” says Ducharme.

“Right now CATSA is the first point of contact with an airline passenger.  Before, people would end up at the counter getting their boarding pass. Now they have their boarding pass on their BlackBerry or they obtain it online so the airline does not know if the passenger is in fact at the Terminal. But by looking at BPSS they can see if the passenger has passed the security check point, how long ago and  whether they should wait for them or not. The airlines love it,” he says.

“We also have an unruly passenger policy in place now with the airlines. While we can’t deny boarding, based on the fact we are experiencing violence at a checkpoint  — for example, if screeners are getting hit or slapped — that gets a Level 3 request for denial of boarding.”

he reality is that screening officers see a passenger longer than a customer service agent at check in, so they have a better opportunity to view a passenger’s fitness to board.

There is also a Red Card policy in which screeners can show a passenger a red card to indicate they are approaching a level of behaviour that may see them denied boarding, but ultimately the decision is up to the airlines.

Access to the screening information  CATSA is collecting through the BPSS is strictly controlled.

“We are consulting with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to make sure our process is in line with their guidelines,” says Ducharme.

Other security authorities around the world including the Transport Security Authority in the U.S. are looking at the BPSS model for their own airports.

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