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9/11, Ten Years Later: Sorting Through Border Security Policies

September 8, 2011

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a host of regulatory proposals showered down upon business aviation in the name of increased security. Arguably, the most burdensome was a requirement for operators flying into the United States to stop first in one of six trusted or “portal” countries for vetting and prescreening of all persons onboard the aircraft. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) was among groups spearheading the call for the government to find a better way.

“The initial concerns after 9/11 were that passengers on board general aviation aircraft coming into the United States could not be vetted in advance by TSA and other government agencies,” recalls Greg Kulis, chairman of NBAA’s Security Council. “There was no way to vet persons onboard general aviation aircraft – you could send passenger-manifest information, but there was no means of verification.”

According to international aircraft arrival data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and cited by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an average of 400 general aviation (GA) aircraft enter the U.S. each day. With an obvious need for a more efficient system, the focus shifted from the portal network to a variant of the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) developed for commercial airlines by Customs and Border Protection. What resulted was an APIS,” program for general aviation allowing the electronic submission of passenger data by GA operators, for vetting of passenger names against government databases.

Efforts to launch APIS for GA aircraft got underway in 2006, with CBP sending its planned regulations out for industry review in the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

“I credit the people in CBP who were directly involved in the process,” Kulis says. “It was a very effective rollout, and they had the information out to the industry ahead of time. They took NBAA’s comments seriously, and went back and made changes to the proposal as a result of industry concerns.”

With the regulations in place, CBP launched APIS in December 2008 in the form of a voluntary compliance period, which is another step Kulis gives the agency credit for. “The voluntary compliance, where the program was in effect but was not required, helped make
APIS remarkably effective,” he says. “They used the six-month trial period to work through technical anomalies, and if someone encountered a software issue or problem entering information, CBP would fix it.”

By the time mandatory compliance went into effect in May 2009, there were relatively few issues remaining thanks to a major education effort by NBAA and other industry stakeholders. With a compliance rate of over 95%, CBP points to the APIS program as a model of effective collaboration between industry and government.

As APIS for general aviation took hold, Kulis notes that NBAA worked with CBP and other agencies to suggest additional uses for the program. “For example, for years, TSA has run a program to grant international waivers for certain operations,” he says. “We asked TSA officials if they could work with CBP to use the data collected by APIS in place of the international waiver system. Now, with few exceptions, most business aircraft no longer require the international waiver.”

Today, all GA operators flying to and from the U.S. use APIS to submit passenger data at a minimum of one hour prior to departure, and for the most part the system does what it’s designed to do. A few difficulties still remain, such as for aircraft departing from remote locations without communications access. Even then, Kulis notes,  using an approved third-party flight handling provider to make the APIS transmission solves most issues. 

“APIS is the best-optimized system for the task at hand,” Kulis says, “and optimal for the vast majority of users.

NBAA offers its members, through a partnership with ARINC Direct Business Aviation Solutions, an option that goes the APIS program one better: by allowing operators to save passenger and crew manifest data for future APIS transmissions on a secure server, accessible for a $25 fee per international flight. Learn more the APIS transmission service and other benefits.