Comments due this month on border rule

 - November 27, 2007, 8:53 AM

After denying requests for an extension of the comment period on proposed new rules involving U.S. border crossings by general aviation aircraft, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency reversed course last month and extended the comment period until December 4.

Originally, the CBP allowed only 60 days to comment on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled “Advance Information on Private Aircraft Arriving and Departing the United States.” That would have made the closing date November 19.

Earlier last month, after NBAA, AOPA and other general aviation organizations asked for an extension, the CBP granted an additional 15 days, making the deadline December 4. NBAA and AOPA had requested the comment period for the NPRM be extended 120 days, to January 18.

“We believe that this additional time for comments will result in additional useful information provided to CBP during the comment period,” NBAA wrote. “This proposal will significantly change the way private aircraft operate into and out of the [U.S.], and additional time for comments will ensure that CBP receives the most valuable comments possible.”

AOPA noted that general aviation is a diverse industry with international flights ranging from recreational pilots flying family and friends across the border for short vacations to corporate aircraft traveling on business flights. 

The NPRM would require GA pilots to file an electronic passenger manifest over the Internet one hour before departure to and from the U.S. Pilots operating charter and commercial aircraft are already required to submit such information through the CBP’s electronic Advance Passenger Information System.

NBAA developed guidelines for drafting comments to CBP and posted them on the association’s Web site. AOPA created an online survey to help it quantify the burden that this proposal would impose on GA pilots and develop alternative regulations.

Invasive Security Procedures at FRG
In other GA security developments, AOPA expressed concern about a plan by the state of New York to require all pilots and aircraft owners based at the state-owned Republic Airport (FRG) in Farmingdale, Long Island, to undergo three separate background checks, including one for criminal history.

“This requirement has caused considerable concern both within the pilot community and among businesses located on the airport,” AOPA v-p for regional affairs Gregory Pecoraro said in a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation. “These requirements can only serve to limit access to the airport by legitimate users and represent an excessive set of security standards.”

AOPA argued that the measures being proposed are far more appropriate to an airline airport than one devoted to general aviation activity. The association added that there is no federal requirement for FRG to institute the type of intensive security program that the state of New York has chosen to impose on the aviation community.

Typically, AOPA pointed out, security programs for an airport such as Republic would contain a number of reasonable elements, such as fences and controlled access, locked hangars, an Airport Watch program, lighting and CCTV.

“But access control does not, and should not be construed to mean the unwarranted background check program being instituted at Republic,” AOPA said. “Federal authorities responsible for aviation security already regularly vet all pilots, obviating the need for a GA airport to institute such practices.

“While we can appreciate the airport’s interest in restricting vehicular access, and even for checking the identity of pilots, we oppose this elaborate and invasive background-check process. It should be sufficient to establish the identity of pilots and aircraft owners, and their need for access to the airport.”

AOPA said that even pilots who have kept their aircraft at Republic for more than 25 years are being forced to share their Social Security numbers with third-party firms and can expect their personal information to be shared with private businesses from which they receive services at the airport.

“If the state and the airport management would be willing to hold the final implementation of the new security program in abeyance,” Pecoraro wrote, “I am certain that the pilot and tenant community would be willing to join a working group to develop solutions that would meet the legitimate security needs of the airport, while preserving a reasonable ease of access for the aviation community.”