People boarding flights at the Prince Albert Glass Field Airport haven’t been screened by security since April, and they shouldn’t expect to be any time soon.
All five Garda Security Screening Inc. positions at the Prince Albert Airport were terminated, effective Oct. 19.
“It shouldn’t be negotiable,” laid off security screener Barry McInnerney said of airport security screening.
“It’s like seatbelts or impaired driving. It should be something that is enforced and enforced at all times, not just for the convenience or inconvenience of some people.”
It’s not like pilots are able to pull over to the side of the road if there’s a dangerous passenger with a weapon on board, he reasoned.
“Once a person is screened from here, then you can go to anywhere in the world, basically, because you have been screened.”
With security no longer in place, passengers who arrive in Saskatoon from Prince Albert can’t go directly through the Saskatoon Airport’s terminal, Prince Albert Airport manager Gayle Sommerfelt explained.
“The airlines have chosen to take their passengers to a private hanger,” she said of the unscreened patrons. “You can’t take passengers to an internationally screened airport.”
In January, 2010, city council passed a motion to discontinue pre-flight security screenings at the airport.
The motion, moved by Coun. Martin Ring and resolved by council, reads, “That administration request that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Security Program and the pre-board screening function at the Prince Albert Municipal Airport be removed from the Prince Albert Municipal Airport, once approval is received.”
Pronto Airways, Transwest Air and West Wind Aviation shared statements backing the motion at the time, all citing redundancy in the screening process.
“Time and time again, (local airlines) have said that the process of screening of passengers for security purposes at Prince Albert is unnecessary and negatively impact the operations of the airlines on a continuous basis and adding significant costs to their operations,” a report by city manager Robert Cotterill from the time reads.
Fast forward another couple years to April 27, 2012, and McInnerney and three co-workers (the fifth security position was open) were working their final day of security at the Prince Albert Airport.
It’s like seatbelts or impaired driving. It should be something that is enforced and enforced at all times, not just for the convenience or inconvenience of some people. - Barry McInnerney, on airport pre-flight security screening
They were initially told that their leave from work was temporary, limited to when runway renovations were underway, McInnerney said — odd justification, since the airport was still receiving flights during the day.
“They just extended it and extended it and extended it at the request of the airlines,” he said. “They were still running flights from Prince Albert to Saskatoon during the day, and they were paving at night.”
Then, on Oct. 5, a letter was sent to the four security staff informing them they’d been laid off, permanently, effective Oct. 19.
This was a surprise to Sommerfelt, who was always under the assumption that the layoffs were temporary and limited to this summer’s runway upgrades, she said.
“I guess it worked well, because they didn’t want to continue (the service),” she said, noting that it was an airline decision.
It was ultimately Garda Security Screening Inc. that laid off the employees, and not the city or airport authority, Sommerfelt clarified.
“At any time, they could be called back,” she said of security staff, noting that the airport is still considered by Transport Canada to offer screening services.
A few days after receiving his letter of dismissal “for the foreseeable future,” McInnerney’s frustrations were further fed by mayoral incumbent Jim Scarrow’s campaign brochure, which cites his goal of attracting WestJet to the airport.
“This is smoke and mirrors as far as (Scarrow’s concerned), because he knows WestJet will not come into Prince Albert without screening officers,” McInnerney said.
It makes sense that the local airlines pushed for the elimination of security — they don’t want WestJet competition, McInnerney alleged.
WestJet media relations advisor Jennifer Sanford responded with some ambiguity when emailed a question regarding airports’ security screening requirement.
“There are a variety of factors that go into the consideration of regional service to a particular community,” Sanford’s response reads.
“Introducing new service is often an economic booster to a community and its airports, allowing them to be more flexible with their funds.”