GA international travel rule debuts with mixed reviews

November 18, 2008

Customs and Border Protection officials listened, in part, to general aviation pilots’ concerns regarding its proposal for advance information on private aircraft arriving and departing the United States. In its final rule, the agency mitigated some of the concerns that were raised, but it still imposes new security requirements.

“This is proof of how influential general aviation pilots can be when they unite,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “However, pilots didn’t get everything they wanted. The federal government is intent on imposing new security requirements on GA.”

The final rule still requires that flight information and passenger manifests for aircraft arriving and departing the United States be filed via the electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS), but now both legs can be filed at the same time, as far in advance as pilots want. The only stipulation is that it must be filed no later than 60 minutes prior to departure. Pilots also can update their plan in flight because of changing weather or other conditions. Previously, pilots would have needed to submit that information one hour before each leg. The agency will be checking the manifest against terrorist watch lists—an action that was mandated by Congress.

AOPA and its members had requested that pilots departing the United States not be subject to the flight information and passenger manifest requirements. The association also had suggested that aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds be exempt from the rule.

Regarding filing passenger manifests electronically, the agency softened its stance but did not waive the requirement. The manifests can be submitted online at the same time as the flight information, and CBP should have a response (approval or denial) for the pilot within minutes.

For pilots flying into remote areas that do not have Internet access, they can complete the process over the telephone, radio, or existing means, such as flight service. This is a point that AOPA had stressed throughout the process. A survey of members revealed that 63 percent of them do not have Internet access at their point of departure in neighboring countries.

“Thanks to pilot input, the CBP better understands the nature of GA operations and the remote areas that pilots often travel,” Cebula said. “They are willing to work with pilots who can’t file the information electronically because they do not have Internet access.”

During the proposal’s review period, AOPA worked to give pilots more time to comment and created a Member Action Center that guided pilots step-by-step through the comment process. AOPA members who fly internationally helped lead the association’s call to action, generating more than 3,000 comments to the CBP.

Members explained that the proposal was impractical and, in some cases, impossible to follow. Nearly 70 percent of members who fly internationally said they would do so less often under the proposal, which would create a negative impact on the U.S. and neighboring countries economies. Of AOPA members who fly internationally, 91 percent of them fly to Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

The association encouraged officials on Capitol Hill to weigh in on the behalf of GA, and 13 members of Congress signed letters and made statements. AOPA also worked with its Alaska Regional Representative Tom George, the Baja Bush Pilots, Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, private operators, and foreign governments to better understand how to suggest reasonable alternatives to the proposal.

AOPA has spoken directly with the CBP official who will be implementing the rule, and he has said that he looks forward to working with the association to develop guidelines for pilots and to implement the rule in a manner that will be seamless for pilots.