When International Travel Resumes, Canada’s Borders and Airports Will Be Very Different

Just as the 9/11 attacks did 20 years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic will transform the way people travel internationally — with hundreds of millions of dollars in the new government spending plans for modernizing border security and updating public health measures at airports.

In the recent federal budget, the federal government announced $82.5 million to fund COVID-19 testing infrastructure at Canadian airports and another $6.7 million to buy sanitization equipment for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Ottawa also has earmarked $656.1 million over five years to modernize Canada’s border security.

Daniel Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said the country’s flight hubs still have no clear idea of what is expected of them.

According to him, the four Canadian airports that are still accepting international flights are operating at about five percent of their pre-COVID levels — but with the current COVID-19 public health measures in place, they are at capacity.

Gooch said that while the funding for testing infrastructure at airports is welcome, testing cannot continue to take place in airports once pre-COVID levels of air travel return.

He said that offering passengers take-home tests or directing arrivals to off-site testing centres close to the airport, would free up space in terminals and allow more passengers to be processed.

At the heart of the move to touchless travel is a trial the federal government is undertaking with the World Economic Forum and The Netherlands called the “Known Traveller Digital Identity” project, or KTDI.

The project began with the publication of a white paper back in 2018 and was seen as a way to modernize air travel by moving passengers through airports faster. That white paper said that a new, touchless system was needed as the number of international air arrivals was expected to increase 50 percent from 2016 to 2030.

With international travel almost at a standstill now, the technology is seen as a way to facilitate a return to pre-COVID levels of air traffic.

Meanwhile, a CBSA spokesperson told CBC News that the $656.1 million federal investment in border security modernization over five years will fund other “digital self-service tools” that will “reduce touchpoints” and create more “automated interactions” at Canadian airports

The CBSA said more information on those measures will be released to the public “in the coming weeks.”


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