Customs steps up aircraft screening near U.S.-Mexico border

June 18, 2009

In the wake of a Long Beach, Calif., incident in which a pilot and his passengers were ramp checked at gunpoint by local law enforcement officers and Customs and Border Protection officials, AOPA has reached out to customs to prevent a repeat.

“Having weapons drawn at the ready without just cause is extreme,” said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Craig Spence. “Customs has indicated that this type of ramp check is atypical and that pilots do not need to worry about similar forceful inspections.”

Pilots could, however, notice an increase in routine ramp checks at airports along the southwestern U.S. border. The Obama administration released a new National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy June 15 to reduce drug trafficking and the flow of cash and weapons across the border. The initiative applies to air, maritime, and ground transportation.

AOPA also is working with customs to ensure that general aviation passenger manifests collected through its Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) are not used beyond the intended scope of terrorist watch list matching.

“AOPA will continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security and customs to find practical and workable alternatives to enhance security that do not unduly restrict GA operations,” Spence said. “In the meantime, we encourage pilots to continue with their planned international flights.”