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Thursday,  July 25, 2024   4:05 PM
Toronto Pearson unveils digital upgrades, improvements ahead of summer travel rush

The busy summer travel season is coming. Is Toronto Pearson airport (YYZ) ready for the rush?

The head of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates Canada’s largest airport, thinks so.

President and CEO Deborah Flint unveiled comprehensive measures on Monday (May 8) that YYZ is implementing to support a seamless passenger experience this summer.

"Last summer was challenging for passengers, and we have responded with a full suite of process improvements and practices with our partners to deliver a more customer-centric and reliable experience,” stated Flint at a press conference at Pearson on Monday morning "Our new approaches include more resources, transparency, and resiliency planning; as we are excited to welcome passengers for a robust summer travel in our improved airport environment "

The update comes after Pearson, last summer, grappled with long line-ups at security checkpoints, lost luggage, as well as a high rate of delayed or cancelled flights as the travel industry, after years of pandemic-related shutdowns, reopened with staffing shortages and operational issues.

Digital innovations + staffing

In response to last summer’s challenges, Pearson has implemented technological upgrades, and staffing increases to enhance efficiency, Flint said.

The airport has fast-tracked its modernization plans by investing in technologies, many of which have already been implemented.

This includes self-service infrastructure:

  • Contactless check-in and boarding processes;
  • A new partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to deploy biometric e-gates, expediting customs clearance for travellers;
  • New digital technology at check-in, gates and baggage areas to replace the current generation of self-service tech as it nears the end of its life.

YYZ Express: Expanding hours for pre-booking spaces in security lines and putting it into service at every security screening point.

Digital mapping: Deploying enhanced digital mapping tools to empower travellers with better information as they navigate our terminals.

  • Baggage:
    • An upgraded baggage system featuring AI that anticipates overloading and detects potential breakdowns before they occur.
    • Capturing data and pushing accountability with airlines and their ground handlers on proper training and staffing availability. This aims to reduce baggage recirculation, maintain baggage system capacity, prevent bag jams and reduce related delays at check-in and departure.
    • Creating a resource pool of employees and contracted staff who would be available to move bags by hand during irregular operations.
  • Staffing: Bolstering staffing in critical areas such as bussing, baggage handling, and terminal operations. Last week, the GTAA hired 130 team members.
  • Real-time analysis: Deploying a new customer-experience platform and dashboard that will provide real-time analysis and insights on key customer sentiment metrics. This aims to give staff better insights, flag issues for our airline partners and address service issues faster.
  • Real-time confidence: Installing new sensors and pulling screening data to post wait times for all agency checkpoints in the terminal and on our website. This will give passengers better live information and a clear understanding of what to expect.
  • Slot assignments: Managing the volume of flights coming into Toronto Pearson with partners on an hourly basis to ensure that the airport ecosystem is capable of receiving and processing these incoming passengers in a timely and efficient way.
  • Airline planning: Asking airlines and their service providers to verify staffing and operational plans for regular and irregular operations. This aims to reduce staffing-related Air Traffic Management Initiatives, disruptions, delays, and missed connections, and help ensure that they can deliver their summer 2023 schedules.
  • On-time performance: Meeting with airlines and their ground handlers and monitoring performance in areas such as check-in, baggage delivery, gate holds, no-crew events and overall staffing levels.
  • Aircraft parking: Limiting non-authorized aircraft parking beyond 12 hours. More availability will mean fewer arrival gate holds, better on-time performance and increased resilience in irregular operations.
  • Runways and taxiways: Mitigating risk with aggressive airfield lighting and electrical projects; and focus on runways and taxiways to maintain their CAT III landing status. Alleviating the risk of emergency repairs will allow us to avoid disruptions to operating schedules.

The GTAA says the enhancements have “already yielded tangible results,” significantly improving the passenger experience.

The authority also called on Ottawa to help” smooth the passenger experience” this summer by implementing a trusted traveller program and helping the airport gain additional U.S.-customers pre-clearance agents to reduce wait times.

Weak on-time records

The question of how prepared Canadian airlines and airports are for this summer was raised last month as weak on-time records came to light.

According to OAG, an aviation data firm, major airports and carriers in Canada had more flight delays in March compared to U.S. airlines, and compared to their own performance in 2019.

Toronto Pearson airport saw 61.2 per cent of flights leave on time within 15 minutes of their scheduled departure versus 73 per cent four years earlier, OAG says.

READ MORE: Summer travel readiness uncertain as Canadian airlines log high number of delays

In contrast, New York's JFK airport and Chicago's O'Hare airport had on-time performances of about 73 per cent and 79 per cent, and within a couple percentage points of O'Hare's 2019 rate.

Passengers pass through Toronto Pearson airport. (File photo/Pax Global Media)

Air Canada's on-time arrival rate was 57.3 per cent in March versus 69.6 per cent in March 2019.

The latest number also contrasts to the 77-to-79 per cent range for three of the biggest U.S. carriers, though they generally face kinder weather conditions.

WestJet and Porter landed about 63 per cent and 65 per cent of their flights on time in March, respectively, compared with 80 per cent and 82 per cent in 2019, the firm says.

Last year, amid staffing challenges and operational issues, major Canadian airports grappled with long line-ups at security checkpoints, lost luggage, as well as a high rate of delayed or cancelled flights as the travel industry, after years of pandemic-related shutdowns, reopened.

Last July, Toronto Pearson airport, for one, claimed the top spot for flight delays globally, according to flight tracking company FlightAware.

Last winter’s holiday travel season also didn’t go too smoothly either after a snowstorm slammed into select regions in Canada, crippling networks and flight performance times.

"Systemic issues"

Former Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee told the Canadian Press last month that the latest statistics in flight performance point to systemic issues across the Canadian aviation sector

“What is shocking to me from these numbers is that all three major national Canadian airlines face very similar on-time performance challenges," Dee told CP.

“The only conclusion is either Canadian airlines are operationally challenged or that operating in Canada involves common structural issues which all three Canadian carriers face, which makes their on-time performance markedly poorer versus their U.S. peers,'' he said.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick, also in April, told CP that the airline is making a “concerted effort'' to reduce delays.

He highlighted the funding differences between the U.S. and Canada.

“The U.S. government has announced US$40 billion in investments over the last few years in airport operating and infrastructure support, while the Canadian government continues to extract hundreds of millions in rent from Canadian airports. The industry has made the point repeatedly that to improve the travel experience for people, the government should be investing in all aspects of the air transport system," he said at the time.

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