US bill would set requirements for overseas pre-clearance

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A congressional committee has passed a bill requiring the US government to examine economic and other impacts of new US overseas customs pre-clearance facilities, prompting praise from the nation’s largest airline trade group.

The bill, passed 11 June by the House Committee on Homeland Security, follows criticism from airlines and their trade representatives, which have insisted that new pre-clearance facilities can benefit foreign competitors at a time when passengers at domestic clearance checkpoints face hours-long waits.

The text of the amended bill was not immediately available, but trade group Airlines for America (A4A) says it requires new pre-clearance facilities be at airports served by US carriers.

If the bill becomes law, that provision would be a major victory for US carriers, which criticised US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for opening a pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi International airport in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.

The US government said the Abu Dhabi site will benefit US security, but the airline community insisted that a prime beneficiary is UAE-based Etihad Airways, the only carrier to offer direct flights from Abu Dhabi to the USA.

The bill also would require CBP to consult with interested parties, including airlines, prior to establishing new overseas pre-clearance facilities. CBP would also need to assess the facility’s impact on the US economy, US employment and the airline industry, says the trade group.

In addition, the bill includes a so-called “fix it here first” clause under which CBP would need to address issues at domestic US checkpoints that have wait times longer than those at overseas US facilities, according to A4A.

The group, which represents US legacy airlines and discount carriers JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, issued a statement thanking lawmakers for passing the bill.

“Restoring congressional oversight to the CBP process will help to improve the throughput of passengers and cargo, while further enhancing the overall travel experience for the customers we serve,” says A4A president and chief executive Nicholas Calio in the statement.