Dubai Air Show

UAE Pre-clearance Base Opposed by U.S. Congress

 - November 17, 2013, 7:30 AM

Airline industry organizations have welcomed new legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress that would prevent the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency from opening a customs preclearance facility in the UAE.

U.S. representatives Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican, and Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, introduced the legislation on November 14. If approved by the full Congress, it would block CBP’s planned opening of a U.S. customs processing facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport and set requirements by which the agency can open a new facility. It would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP’s parent agency, to provide Congressional committees with an assessment of the economic and national security impact of any new facility. The Meehan-DeFazio legislation has 59 co-sponsors in Congress.

In April, the DHS negotiated an agreement with the UAE government to establish the pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi’s airport. By screening people early in the travel cycle, the department contends, CBP officers could protect against high-risk passengers seeking entry to the U.S. and help relieve customs lines at major ports of entry, including New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Washington Dulles and Los Angeles Internationalairports. Under the agreement negotiated by the parties, the UAE will reimburse 85 percent of the cost of operating the pre-clearance facility.

No U.S. airline currently flies between Abu Dhabi and the U.S., and airline groups argue that the pre-clearance facility would benefit only Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi’s government-owned airline. Passengers traveling to the U.S. from Asia or Europe could choose to fly Etihad and connect through Abu Dhabi to avoid long customs lines on arrival in the U.S. The CBP does operate customs pre-clearance facilities at airports in Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean that are served by U.S. carriers.

“It’s ridiculous that U.S. government policy would encourage travelers to use foreign airlines instead of U.S. carriers,” stated Meehan, announcing the new legislation. “While pursuing strong border and customs policies, we should not be hurting American workers by giving an advantage to a state-subsidized foreign airline. This bipartisan bill will correct this misguided policy.”

The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) which represents pilots at 32 airlines in the U.S. and Canada; and Airlines for America (A4A), the trade group that represents major U.S. airlines, lead a coalition of several travel industry organizations that oppose the Abu Dhabi pre-clearance facility. Both groups issued statements applauding the Meehan-DeFazio bill.

According to ALPA, the legislation would require an economic impact analysis before CBP could establish any new pre-clearance facility, “including any potential facilities at Abu Dhabi International Airport, Al Maktoum International Airport and Dubai International Airport in the UAE, or at Doha International Airport in Qatar.”

The planned pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi “would benefit only Etihad Airways, the heavily state-supported national airline,” the pilots union said. “It is U.S. airlines and their employees, not their state-backed foreign competitors, that should benefit from a marketing advantage provided by the U.S. government as they compete to prevail in the global economic arena.”

A4A said it has “consistently advocated that DHS use its resources to focus on addressing lengthy wait times at several U.S. gateway airports, which inconvenience U.S. citizens and discourage travel to the United States. Despite strong objections from members of Congress and the U.S. aviation industry, the Administration is moving forward with its misguided decision to establish a CBP pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi, an airport that no U.S. carriers currently serve.”