Ottawa airport unveils revamped passenger screening checkpoints

Airport screening
The Ottawa Airport officially unveiled its new security screening area on Thursday. Photo courtesy Ottawa International Airport Authority

The Ottawa Airport officially opened its new, larger security checkpoint on Thursday, a change it says will speed up passenger flow and allow for more physical distancing while travellers and their carry-on items are being screened.

The revamped security area is part of a $25-million redevelopment plan the Ottawa airport authority announced in 2018. The new screening checkpoint is the first project in a multi-staged process that also includes an expanded food court. 

The expanded checkpoint ​– located on the third floor in space formerly occupied by the food court ​– is about 17,000 square feet, or two and a half times larger than the old security screening area on the second floor. A new tracking system is designed to assign each bin with a unique identification tag and a photo before it enters the X-ray system, a feature aimed at making the screening of carry-on items more efficient.

The airport said the old checkpoint was designed before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 prompted terminals to ramp up security measures. While the screening area was regularly updated with new technology, the airport said the revamped checkpoint will better accommodate the latest security protocols.

The new system “will ensure effective, efficient screening for everyone who requires access to the airport’s secure area, and the larger footprint will provide the space needed to maintain the required physical distance in keeping with public health guidelines,” airport authority CEO Mark Laroche said in a statement.

Construction of the airport’s expanded concessions area, which has been relocated to the second floor, was put on hold earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The airport said Thursday the renovations will “proceed as appropriate when passenger volumes warrant.”

The expanded security checkpoint and revamped concessions are among a number of projects aimed at modernizing the 17-year-old Ottawa terminal. Canadian hotelier Group Germain is in the midst of building a $40-million, 180-room hotel that will be directly connected to the airport and is slated to open next year.

The projects come as the airport faces a ballooning deficit in the face of a dramatic drop in passenger traffic after the pandemic grounded international flights and the number of domestic flights was slashed. 

Just 57,000 travellers passed through the terminal in August, down from nearly 470,000 a year earlier. After drawing 5.1 million passengers last year, the airport is on pace to see fewer than half than many in 2020, and Laroche has said the non-profit facility will likely have to hike levies such as airport improvement, terminal and landing fees – which account for more than two-thirds of its revenues – to help pay its bills.