US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-clearance currently has 15 air operations at airports in six countries outside the United States: Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Ireland, and the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi).
At these sites, international air travelers going to the US undergo the same inspection they would as if they were entering the US. Pre-clearance reduces congestion at CBP facilities at ports of entry on US soil. When the aircraft arrives in the US, it is treated as a domestic arrival, which greatly simplifies pre-cleared passengers’ onward connections.
Setting up a pre-clearance facility requires coordination among the governments involved. First, government-to-government pre-clearance agreement must be negotiated and entered into force. Once that is done, the focus is on coordinating to insert CBP procedures into the pre-clearance airport.
Etihad Airways CEO Peter Baumgartner said at AVSEC World that the airline was proud to have a pre-clearance facility available at Abu Dhabi International Airport. “This is the kind of cooperation we need to continue to build in more airports around the world, to collectively be responsible for passenger safety across the globe,” Baumgartner said in opening remarks.
IATA Regional Vice President Africa & Middle East Muhammad Ali Albakri said, “Feedback on US pre-clearance facilities suggests passengers have smoother journeys into the US, particularly for those connecting to another flight at a US airport.”
There are, however, some challenges. Often times, significant investments are needed to implement pre-clearance facilitation. And once implemented, the strict conditions under which pre-clearance needs to operate can reduce operational flexibility for airports and airlines. It is also important that the airline community is effectively consulted and that the investment and operational costs are equitably shared.
“This is a government-to-government level decision. And too often effective consultation with airlines is not a part of the process,” said Albakri.
The American Congress established the requirements for beginning pre-clearance operations at an airport outside the US in the Pre-clearance Authorization Act of 2015. The Act allows the US Secretary of Homeland Security to establish pre-clearance operations to prevent terrorists, “instruments of terrorism,” and other security threats from entering the US; prevent so-called “inadmissible persons” from entering the US; ensure merchandise destined for the US complies with applicable laws; and ensure the prompt processing of people who are eligible to travel to the US.
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