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Making Customs Clearance Easier, Safer for Business Aviation Flights

Sept. 8, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast on the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities that are available for general aviation use.

With Customs and Border Protection (CBP) subjecting more international travelers to electronic and biometric data collection, incoming international general aviation flights at many commercial airports have been directed to taxi to airline gates, where CPB had its data collection equipment available.

At most airports however, air traffic control does not control activity on the airline ramps. Instead, individual air carriers on discreet radio frequencies generally handle those communications. In an environment where airliners are constantly in motion, business aircraft entering those busy areas can be a recipe for trouble.

“The safety implications are obvious,” said Greg Kulis, a business aviation pilot and past chairman of the NBAA Security Council. “But along with those worries, there are other practical concerns. Badging requirements won’t allow for general aviation (GA) personnel within the terminal perimeter. There’s no fuel for GA aircraft there. Passengers have to deplane on the tarmac a good way from a gate, even in inclement weather.”

In an attempt to accommodate the needs of international GA arrivals, CBP developed a comprehensive set of facility standards known as the airport technical design standards (ATDS), which define the criteria for construction of customs facilities on the GA side of the airport.

But building an ATDS facility is no easy matter.

The ATDS requirements are complex, and can make construction of CBP processing facilities expensive. Consequently, NBAA – along with its national, regional and local partners – has worked with CBP on designing affordable, ATDS-compliant CBP processing facilities that fit the operating environment of general aviation.

Over the past three years, Kulis said, approximately 15 ATDS facilities have been built. Another 14 or so are under construction, and approximately 18 are either in the proposal or design phase.

At Port Columbus International Columbus, OH (CMH), FBO Lane Aviation broke ground last month on a $900,000 CBP clearance facility.

Lane Aviation Vice President Mark Myers said the decision to build a CBP facility was made after local operators expressed an interest while he was then-president of the Ohio Business Aviation Association. He believes the project will not only benefit the community, but is a wise investment on the part of the FBO.

“Right now, we serve about 250 incoming flights that require customs clearance every year,” Myers said. “After carefully studying the needs of customers in Columbus and points southwest, we believed it [constructing a new customs facility] was a good idea. We think, with this facility, we’ll serve 400 to 450 inbound flights a year, and therefore recover our investment perhaps more quickly than initially estimated.”

Determining whether a CBP ATDS facility is appropriate for your airport begins with reaching out to your local CBP officials, said Kulis. NBAA can help facilitate that discussion, as well as provide guidance on performing a needs assessment to determine whether such a facility is appropriate.

“If the airport sees 300 to 400 international business operations each year, then there’s a definite need,” Kulis said.