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Regional Representation: Highlighting Economic Benefits Can Be Key to Successful Advocacy

In today's economic environment, the one thing that everyone agrees upon is the need to encourage economic activity and create jobs. And regional business aviation groups across the country are finding that making the economic argument is often crucial to advancing the interests of not only business aviation, but the wider community as well.

For example, the Ohio Regional Business Aviation Association (ORBAA) was one of several local business groups that helped convince government officials to improve Customs and Border Protection (CBP) clearance procedures for business aviation at Ohio's Port Columbus International Airport (CMH), according to Bob Quinn, NBAA's regional representative for the Central United States.

The problem at CMH started in 2009, when CBP officials ended their policy of planeside inspections at local fixed base operators (FBOs) for incoming international business aircraft flights. As a result, business airplanes were required to park nose-in at the airline terminal to obtain Customs clearance.

That created several problems. The first one was safety. Since smaller business aircraft were hidden from the view of the control tower, there were some close calls during pushbacks. The second issue was the effect the procedural change would have on business development in Columbus. Forcing business airplane passengers to disembark, stand in line for an hour, and then re-board to reach the FBO was expected to have a chilling effect on the area's economic competitiveness. A third issue was that the policy was at odds with CBP procedures at most other similarly sized airports.

Mark Myers, ORBAA vice president and director of aviation/marketing at Lane Aviation, an FBO at Port Columbus, believes the economic argument was the key to getting action on this issue. Once the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the Columbus Partnership (a group of civic leaders whose goal is to improve the economic vitality of Central Ohio) were on board and the Columbus Regional Airport Authority became a stakeholder, things began to move forward.

"Before that, the issue didn't get much attention," said Myers. "But when we mentioned that some flight departments were avoiding the airport [because of inconvenient Customs clearing procedures], it was not a hard sell. When we explained what economic impact this was having, then the ball got rolling. Now, community leaders, business aircraft operators and CBP are working together to provide better travel solutions for people coming to Columbus."

CBP officials have agreed to allow U.S. and Canadian citizens who don't require fingerprinting to be cleared at the FBOs. International passengers will continue using the airline terminal until a satellite Customs facility is built at Lane Aviation.

"This was the perfect example of a partnership of industry and government getting something accomplished," declared NBAA Security Council Chairman Greg Kulis.

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