Canadian airlines flying through U.S. airspace will have to hand over the personal data of everyone aboard the plane if a U.S.-proposed program comes into effect — even if the destination is not in the States.
But the Secure Flight program, the brainchild of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has already met swift opposition from the organization that represents all Canadian airlines.
In a report published in Thursday's Globe and Mail, the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) said it was taken aback by the call to require Canadian airlines to hand over passenger lists 72 hours before departing for destinations that travel in the path of U.S. airspace.
The requirement to hand over the passenger information would stick regardless of whether the plane takes off or lands at a U.S. airport, meaning the changes would affect Canadian flights to such holiday hotspots as Mexico and Cuba. However, in-country flights that only briefly cross U.S. airspace (such as Vancouver via Toronto) are excluded.
ATAC policy vice-president Fred Gaspar told the CBC that the proposal — if enacted — could go as far as having U.S. planes intercept and ground a Canadian airliner.
"Let's say … that they don't like the person in [seat] 12C," Gaspar said.
"They could then scramble fighter aircraft; they could force us to land."
In a statement Thursday, Transport Canada spokeswoman Julia Ukrintz said the proposed U.S. legislation was "currently going through discussion phase" with Canadian officials.
"These are continuous conversations and the U.S. has indicated that it does value Canadian aviation safety procedure already in place," she said.
"The proposed U.S. rule currently exempts 75 per cent of flights that overfly the U.S. We are also in discussion with the U.S. on the remaining 25 per cent of overflights," Ukrintz said.
Homeland Security's Transportation Security Agency (TSA) wrote that the goal of the proposal is to "prevent known or suspected terrorists from boarding aircraft where they may jeopardize the lives of passengers and others," according to the Globe.
Still, Gaspar told the CBC the proposal seems out of place, since Canada already has its own no-fly list in place — a list that was developed, in fact, after close consultation with the U.S. government.
"The Canadian and U.S. governments have been co-operating quite extensively on the development of secure civil aviation," Gaspar said Thursday. "Why would you encourage the Canadian government to develop its own no-fly list if you're now saying, 'Thank you very much, it's no value for us'?"
Under the proposal, Canadian airlines would reportedly have to disclose each passenger's:
Full name, as the name appears on his or her passport
Date of birth
So-called "known traveller number" (if applicable). The number identifies the traveller as someone who the U.S. government has already screened and ruled is not a security threat.
Although it would not be required, Canadian carriers would also be encouraged to transmit further details about passengers, including their itineraries, with a listing of their departure airport codes, airlines, departure/arrival times and arrival airport codes.
Gaspar said that ATAC has until Oct. 22 to launch a formal objection to the proposal. He urged the Canadian government to submit an official complaint.