The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last month issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would require more detailed information about arriving and departing private aircraft and the people on board within a time frame necessary to assess the risks that such flights could pose to national security.
The NPRM expands existing regulations and will require pilots of private aircraft to provide to the U.S. government electronic manifest data for all on board one hour before departure to and from the U.S. by filing manifest data via the Bureau of Customs and Border Patrol’s eAPIS (electronic Advance Passenger Information System) or an approved alternate system. Pilots operating charter and commercial flights already have been required to submit this information through eAPIS.
The DHS said it is working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is part of the agency, to identify and vet passengers and crew on inbound and outbound international private aircraft, generally defined as noncommercial flights. DHS officials want passengers on private aircraft to be checked against terrorist watch lists before exiting or arriving in the U.S. Comments are due November 19. The NPRM will take effect on February 19.
“This rule is designed to further protect the nation by improving our ability to identify threats on flights to and from the United States,” said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. “We have a similar rule in place that allows us to assess the risk of commercial aircraft passengers on these flights and we are now taking steps to expand that capability to include passengers on international flights by private aircraft.”
The NPRM would require operators of private aircraft to provide the following information no less than 60 minutes before departure from or to a foreign port or place: advance notices of arrival, complete passenger and crew manifest data and aircraft information to foster aircraft identification, tracking and communication.
The DHS is considering a phased approach for implementation of the proposed security measures. Under Phase 1, the agency will publish the NPRM to elicit public comments before issuance of a final rule and implementation of the new requirements. Under Phase II it will cooperate with private aircraft owners and operators as well as foreign partners to develop methods and processes to address additional security vulnerabilities for international private aircraft operations at their last point of departure before entering U.S. airspace.
Hardship for Smaller Operators
“We expect that many of the more sophisticated private aircraft operators, such as larger businesses with an extensive flight department, would be able to adapt to the proposed requirements,” said National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president James Coyne. “However, we are quite concerned about the effect of this rule on the smallest of operators.”
For example, currently a flight returning to the U.S. from Canada can make required arrival notifications to the CBP via a radio transmission while en route, NATA pointed out. Upon landing, pilots provide passenger information during a face-to-face meeting with customs officials.
The reason the rules today permit a radio transmission is because the aircraft may not be near a telephone at its departure point. In fact, some flights might originate from locations without power, to say nothing of the high-speed Internet connection necessary to submit the electronic manifest data.
“It appears that these unique operations were not given sufficient consideration in the development of the new requirement,” Coyne said. “We will submit detailed comments to the CBP as to how such operations might be better accommodated in the regulations.”
“GA pilots must be able to file their passenger manifest in other ways in addition to eAPIS,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive v-p of government affairs. “CBP is not providing a realistic alternative for GA pilots who can take off from remote areas that might not have Internet access.”
The CBP plan would require pilots leaving these remote areas to land at another airport with Internet service and complete the information before entering or leaving the U.S., a procedure that AOPA called impractical.
According to AOPA, moving the reporting requirement for GA flight to predeparture rather than upon arrival was included in the recently enacted 9/11 Commission law. Currently, pilots leaving the U.S. are not required to submit any information to CBP.
Chertoff told Congress last month that the latest proposal would bring private aircraft into closer alignment with the passenger screening requirements that currently apply to commercial air carriers under CBP’s APIS regulation. He added that it would allow inspectors more time to screen travelers and crews and take necessary actions to resolve threats, whether that means denying the airplane entry into the U.S. airspace, rerouting an aircraft or meeting the aircraft upon arrival.
The DHS has determined that approximately 400 noncommercial aircraft enter the U.S. from foreign locations each day, not counting helicopter operations in the Gulf of Mexico. It said that a large volume and wide variety of aircraft enter the U.S. from the Caribbean, many originating at points more distant and transiting through the Caribbean to enter the U.S. The bulk of the remaining traffic is transatlantic flights from Europe.