Guest Editorial

National Civil Aviation Security Program


Emilia Warriner

It goes without saying that aviation is a key enabler of our economy. The aviation industry in Canada transports 80 million passengers and $110 billion worth of goods a year while employing 91 000 people. With annual passenger growth forecasted at 3%, the importance of aviation to the Canadian and the global economies will only continue to increase.

Recognizing its economic importance, terrorists continue to view aviation as an attractive and high value target and have continued to develop new attack methods. The attacks of September 11, 2001, demonstrated terrorist tradecraft evolution by moving from hijacking and bombings to commandeering an aircraft to use as a weapon. In 2006, a disrupted attempt sought to use liquid explosives in coordinated attacks on transatlantic flights. In the 2009 attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, a body-borne improvised explosive device was the weapon of choice. And then, in 2010, terrorists attempted to use explosives hidden in air cargo.

Simply put, terrorist tactics keep changing and governments and the aviation industry need to stay ahead of these threats. The challenge is developing regulatory frameworks that are flexible enough to adapt to new threats. This requires a multilayered approach to aviation security that better integrates the efforts of regulators, law enforcement, intelligence and industry.

Aviation security in Canada is a shared responsibility. Transport Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and industry partners all play important roles mitigating security risks. While our civil aviation system is one of the safest and most secure in the world, we need to be vigilant in order to detect, prevent, prepare for and respond to new and emerging threats.

As a road map for the way forward, Transport Canada published the National Civil Aviation Security Program (NCASP) in 2013. Released in response to the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182, the NCASP details the risk-based principles that inform Transport Canada’s development of aviation security regulations, policies and programs.

The NCASP provides industry partners with a measure of predictability in the future direction of Canada’s aviation security policies and regulations, while at the same time aiming to balance security with efficiency and fiscal responsibility.

To achieve this balance, the following principles guide our decision-making and program development: risk management; industry and government engagement and partnership; continuous improvement; and international compatibility.

The first principle recognizes it is impossible to prevent and deter all risks; the only way to eliminate all security risks to civil aviation is to not let planes fly, period. Rather, our focus should be on integrating our efforts to manage and mitigate risks.

To that end, Transport Canada developed a systematic way to share and assess threat and risk information with industry stakeholders, allowing them to develop programs tailored to the risks they face. On an annual basis, Transport Canada engages federal and industry partners to share and assess threat information. This practice guides and informs industry security practices and processes that are undertaken to meet regulatory responsibilities.

We recognize that we cannot develop aviation security policies and regulations in isolation from the industry partners we regulate and with whom we cooperate. As a result, Transport Canada undertakes consultations with industry partners ensuring their perspectives, capabilities and expertise are taken into account in program and policy development. We also adopt the same approach with other federal departments and agencies that have a role in aviation security. This wide-ranging engagement ensures our regulatory and policy frameworks are not developed in isolation and serves to facilitate implementation by industry and government partners.

Due to the changing nature of aviation threats, Transport Canada supports ongoing improvement and flexibility in the way our stakeholders meet their regulatory requirements and manage their risks. We are moving our policies and regulations from a prescriptive, “one-size-fits-all” basis to being focused on performance and security outcomes. Performance-based regulations, evidenced in new regulatory frameworks released last year, allow stakeholders to meet their regulatory goals and manage their risks in the manner that best fits their operating conditions and threat environments.

Working towards international compatibility involves promoting risk-based principles internationally. There are two ways of achieving this: by promoting these principles in policy and regulatory discussions at the International Civil Aviation Organization; and through bilateral mutual recognition agreements with individual countries.

On a multilateral basis, Transport Canada promotes outcome- and performance-based regulatory frameworks in the development of international aviation security standards and recommended practices.

Bilaterally, there are several risk-based initiatives deserving mention. In 2012, under the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan, we concluded an agreement with the USA, the highest volume destination for Canadian air travelers, allowing Canadians to use their NEXUS program membership for expedited screening at participating U.S. airports.

Under the same agreement, we are also working toward bilateral recognition of our hold baggage screening programs so that Canadian travelers transiting through U.S. airports would not need to have their baggage re-screened in the USA. In addition to addressing a major industry irritant and lowering operating costs, these agreements will facilitate the over 500 daily flights between our two countries.

We are also examining the possibility of developing similar agreements that would facilitate travel between Canada and key destinations, by mutually recognizing security regimes and practices. This would allow regulators to eliminate redundant security layers that incur costs and lead to travel inefficiencies.

To conclude, adopting a risk-based approach to aviation security aims at balancing security with efficiency and fiscal responsibility. It also means integrating the efforts of governments, law enforcement and industry to create a multilayered system able to identify and address new aviation security threats. By engaging and integrating our efforts with industry partners, we are better able to manage risk and reduce duplication of security processes. This not only facilitates legitimate trade and travel, but also lowers operating costs for our industry partners, whose security expertise and culture have matured over the past decade. 

Emilia Warriner
Director, Aviation Security Policy
Aviation Security Directorate
Transport Canada

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