The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has agreed to extend the hours of customs operations at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Executive Airport (FXE) from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. The trial period started June 27 and will be in effect for 120 days, at which time Customs will assess whether or not the extra hours of service should be permanent and whether additional staffing and more coverage will be needed.
The offices previously closed at 5 p.m., creating significant inconvenience for aircraft inbound from the Bahamas. Airport tenant businesses and aircraft operators throughout southern Florida have been requesting the longer hours for more than a decade. The mayor, county commissioners, FAA and area congressmen have long supported extended hours.
Previously, as many as 35 aircraft a day inbound to FXE as their final destination would have to clear customs at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), adding another cycle on their aircraft by starting up and flying the short leg to FXE. Aircraft bound for other airports throughout the Southeast would use FLL as a point of first entry, further congesting the larger airport.
According to the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport Association, a user group, diverting transient-aircraft traffic directly to FXE will immediately reduce movements at FLL by 6 percent, or nearly 19,000 aircraft movements per year. Over the past few years, FLL has developed a reputation and made national news for its excessive airline delays.
Even with the earlier customs closing, FXE has been recognized as the second busiest general aviation port of entry. With the extended hours, the association expects FXE could become the busiest general aviation airport in the nation, rivaling Van Nuys in California and Teterboro in New Jersey.
Don Campion, president of Banyan Air Service at FXE, summed up the view of pilots and airport tenants alike. He said, “[It’s] some of the best news for the traveling public that we have had in years. It is not just a Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport issue but a South Florida air transportation and community issue that brings benefits to so many. The longer hours relieve a percentage of the air traffic congestion; increase safety; result in fewer low-and-slow aircraft over the neighborhoods between FLL and FXE; reduce noise and pollution; eliminate the 5 p.m. air-traffic ‘rush hour’; use airport assets wisely by spreading traffic between FXE and FLL rather than forcing air traffic to one location; and have a positive economic impact for the airports, operators and traveling public.”