Industry opposes manifest rule changes

 - December 27, 2007, 11:39 AM

General aviation groups got in under the wire last month in commenting on proposed new rules for general aviation aircraft traversing U.S. border crossings. Most of their concerns are centered on how aircraft operators should submit manifest information.

Although NBAA helped develop the “Guide for Private Fliers” that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released in September, the association said, “We believe that the bureau’s proposal to substantially change how international private aircraft interact with federal authorities has raised some significant issues that if left unaddressed could cause substantial harm to users of private aircraft.”

It appears that CBP did not consider the full complexity and scope of private aircraft operations outside the U.S. when proposing how aircraft operators should submit manifest information, NBAA said.

In the September notice of proposed rulemaking, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which CBP is a part, said that pilots of private aircraft would be required to provide the U.S. government electronic manifest data for all on board one hour before departure to and from the U.S. by filing that data via the CBP’s eAPIS (electronic Advance Passenger Information System) or an approved alternate system. Pilots operating charter and commercial flights already are required to submit this information through eAPIS.

Internet Service Spotty

NBAA noted that the federal government often takes for granted the wide availability of a reliable Internet connection. In most parts of the world, Internet availability is a scarce resource and difficult to secure, it said.

According to NBAA, other means of communication such as a telephone or ship-to-shore operator have much broader coverage and availability. “We believe that limiting an aircraft operator’s method of communicating mandatory information to a single path, such as an Internet portal, and requiring aircraft to land at a station where Internet communication is available to comply with this mandate raises significant operational and aircraft safety concerns that the bureau has not addressed,” the association explained.

For decades, NBAA said, aviation safety experts within the FAA have avoided policies and regulations that require an additional operation (a takeoff or landing) for the sake of “documentation” or other measures not related to safety.

“The majority of aviation accidents occur during the takeoff, approach and landing phases of flight,” NBAA said. “Exposing private aircraft operators to additional risk by mandating aircraft operators to land at a facility with adequate Internet availability simply for the purpose of submitting manifest information is not in the best interest of aviation safety policy.”

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) said that while the proposed regulations are largely similar to those applicable to NATA’s members conducting commercial on-demand operations, the association believes that the CBP has falsely presumed a far greater similarity between commercial and private operators than actually exists. Although in many circumstances similar aircraft are used in both commercial and private aviation, the actual operation of the aircraft is often quite different, it pointed out.

NATA said it is concerned about mandatory exclusive use of computer and Internet technologies, manifest data elements, unclear actions for not-cleared passengers/pilots and inaccurate costs for compliance.

Onerous Requirement

NBAA expressed appreciation that the CBP has considered authorizing other parties to submit required information on behalf of the PIC, and it acknowledged that for many operators this might prove to be the best solution. “We strongly believe, however, that no rule should effectively mandate the use of a third-party service because of lack of flexibility built into the rule,” NBAA said. “A private aircraft operator should have the opportunity to comply with this rule without extraordinary means and without the involvement of another party. We strongly believe that the bureau must consider providing additional communication methods for these operations.”

In its comments to CBP, AOPA said, “We strongly oppose the electronic transmission mandate in the proposed rule and have identified significant problems with other requirements.” It said electronic filing does not mitigate any threat, vulnerability or consequence. “It is merely shifting a burden from the government to an industry that is ill-equipped to bear it,” AOPA wrote.

The association argued that Internet access is far from universal, even in the U.S. In fact, some 63 percent of AOPA members who fly internationally report that the Internet is not available from any of their departure points outside the U.S.
AOPA said that CBP’s proposed solution to that problem–flying to another location where Internet access is available before returning to the U.S.–is unworkable, costly and in some cases dangerous for GA pilots.

The association also could find no logic in CBP’s requirement that pilots notify the agency when departing the U.S. GA aircraft must already file an FAA flight plan and be in communication with ATC when crossing the borders.

Other items in the proposal were also outside the norm of small GA operations. CBP, for example, wants a 24-hour point of contact for the aircraft. “These aircraft are not operating with the support of large dispatch or flight facilities,” AOPA said. “The 24-hour point of contact is the person flying the aircraft.”

The association urged CBP to return to its previous policy of risk-based security measures. “Current regulations and policy documents differentiate between aircraft size and weight, with more stringent rules for aircraft with a maximum certified  takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or more,” AOPA said. “As such, AOPA questions why CBP has abandoned that approach with this proposed rule.”

CBP must now consider all of the comments received on its proposed regulations before issuing a final rule.