October 17, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
Mexico's government has proposed establishing an advance passenger information system (APIS) for flights entering and exiting the country, but the plan has quickly raised concerns about “unworkable” procedures and pricy penalties for pilots who fail to comply.
AOPA and industry partners are reviewing the proposed APIS system to be operated by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Migracion in response to migration-law reforms passed in 2011.
The aviation organizations are also discussing the implications of the proposed rulemaking with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which already administers an electronic APIS ( eAPIS), said Thomas Zecha, AOPA manager of aviation security.
As proposed, the Mexican APIS presents pilots with tricky provisions including a requirement, for flights to Mexico of less than an hour, to transmit extensive flight information, in Spanish, after the aircraft doors are closed but prior to takeoff. For longer flights, the information would have to be transmitted within 30 minutes before takeoff and after the aircraft doors are closed. In both cases the information to be transmitted includes confirmation of the identities of the passengers on board, according to a summary of the proposal.
Where the information would be sent has not been specified.
“The proposed regulations make no mention of an electronic portal like U.S. Customs and Border Protection's eAPIS,” said Zecha.
The regulations would apply to private and charter aircraft, and to seagoing vessels.
The potential negative impact to tourism is enormous, Zecha said.
Zecha suggested that the required transfer of information could make use of existing—and proven—infrastructure.
“In this day and age of enhanced communications technology, it should be possible to pass along CBP's aircraft, crew, and passenger information transparently, as it is already being electronically transmitted to meet U.S. Customs regulations,” he said.
Another potential problem raised by the proposal is profiteering: With fines for noncompliance possibly as high as U.S. $50,000, the regulations could create opportunities for third-party providers to offer the services at premium prices, he said.
The proposed regulations follow Mexico's passage in May 2011 of legislation that included language asserting the Instituto Nacional de Migracion's authority to review the documentation of persons entering or leaving the country, and the inspection of vehicles used for that purpose. A national development plan for the years 2007 to 2012 stated a goal of enhancing the quality of Mexico's immigration services, according to the summary of the proposed regulations. Travel advocate seeks details
“When we saw the law, there was no detail,” said Rick Gardner, general manager of Mexico-based Caribbean Sky Tours, a company that works with tourism and aviation officials to promote general aviation travel. Gardner is also AOPA's authorized representative for the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.
In a phone interview, Gardner said industry members “voiced concern” to Mexican authorities about the potential impact on efforts to attract general aviation tourism to the country.
“The more difficult you make something, the less likely people are to do it,” he said.
Gardner described the proposed regulations as “unworkable” for most general aviation aircraft, and as “a show stopper” that runs counter to efforts to dispel notions that personal air travel to Mexico is too complicated.
It was unclear when fines would be imposed, possibly for errors as minor as transposing a date when reporting required information, he said.
The proposed regulations were published Sept. 24, he said, but the notice did not publicize a deadline for public comment, or set a proposed effective date for the APIS.
Gardner added that several Mexican general aviation pilots planned to retain legal counsel to make their voices heard in the proceedings
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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