U.S. Eases Customs and Immigration Pre-Clearance Process in Shannon

 - September 30, 2011, 8:50 PM

The process through which business aircraft passengers and crew can clear U.S. customs and immigration in Shannon, Ireland, has been significantly speeded up thanks to a decision to allow operators to keep their aircraft powered up while on the ground. This means that the procedures can be completed in just 45 minutes from chocks-on to chocks-off, compared with at least 80 minutes when all aircraft power had to be shut down.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has ruled that aircraft can keep their APUs running as long as their exhaust outlets are at least eight feet above the ground. Alternatively crews can keep the aircraft under power with ground power units.

CBP officials had been concerned about their staff being injured by hot exhaust from APUs, and also that the small powerplant could interfere with the radiation isotope identifier equipment that they use to scan aircraft. Being able to keep aircraft powered up means that crews no longer have to reboot the flight management system and re-enter the flight plan.

More Users Expected

According to Derek Collins, manager of Universal Weather & Aviation’s Shannon FBO, the delays in getting airborne again to cross the Atlantic have discouraged operators from using the pre-clearance facility. Shannon, on the west coast of Ireland, is the only CBP-approved pre-clearance facility in Europe, and using it allows operators to fly directly into some 200 U.S. airports as if the flight were domestic.

Shannon Airport also has made a further improvement to the CBP screening facilities, reducing the distance that business jet passengers need to walk to complete the pre-clearance. They can now complete the process in a more private area, away from airline passengers.

Since introducing the pre-clearance option last year, U.S. officials have since extended it to cover both private and commercially operated business aircraft. Nonetheless, demand for the service has been fairly slow to take off, with operators apparently discouraged by the extended periods taken to complete the CBP process.

“We haven’t had as much take up as we had hoped,” said Collins, explaining that while one operator had used the service 10 times, Universal’s team usually gets only a couple of clients each month. The flight planning and support group now expects demand for pre-clearance in Shannon to grow substantially in view of the faster turnarounds.

Aircraft can use the pre-clearance facility at Shannon from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday through Friday, and from 7 a.m. through 3 p.m. on Saturdays (with the last appointments being one hour earlier than these closing times). Operators of Part 135 charter aircraft have to give 48 hours’ notice to use the pre-clearance service. For private aircraft, only 24 hours is required.

Shannon Airport charges a fee of €10.50 ($14) per person to use the pre-clearance service, with a minimum charge of €150 ($210) per aircraft. The airport has invested almost $25 million in the new facilities for CBP officials.