Customs to pilots: We hear you
When it comes to adhering to the laws and regulations governing aviation, pilots follow them to the letter, even if it means submitting to cumbersome procedures. But, pilots also make their dissatisfaction known, detailing—to the letter—how those procedures should be changed to accomplish the desired effect and make their flights easier.
That has been the case with Customs and Border Protection’s Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) since it launched a year ago May 18. Because pilots have complied with eAPIS requirements, customs officials are listening to their suggestions and developing enhancements to make the online filing application easier to use.
“We underestimated how much pilots follow rules,” said Eric Rodriguez, customs program manager for private aircraft and general aviation. Rodriguez explained that customs has more than 39,000 eAPIS user accounts and receives thousands of manifests each week. Pilots flying internationally are required to submit passenger manifest and flight information through APIS at least 60 minutes before their departure, whether inbound to or outbound from the United States.
After a year of eAPIS operation, only a handful of pilots have received letters indicating that they had failed to follow proper procedures. Turns out, almost all of these incidents were honest mistakes made by pilots truly trying to comply. “Not one of these people have received an APIS penalty,” Rodriguez said.
For first-time users, “it’s not the most intuitive system,” Rodriguez acknowledged. “Everyone knows that. We’re trying to make it easier.”
And they’ve turned to pilots to do so. Customs officials are incorporating changes based on feedback from the original eAPIS comment period in 2007 and from critiques pilots have made while using eAPIS during the past year.
Upcoming enhancements, which Rodriguez said should be completed this year, will allow pilots to create templates to save their passenger, aircraft, and trip data for later use. That means pilots who fly internationally with the same passengers (for family vacation or business trips, for example) won’t have to re-enter the information from scratch each time they file their departure or arrival through eAPIS. The new version also will allow pilots to easily reverse their route to file the return leg through eAPIS.
“Pilots have made a huge impact on customs officials—compliance with this cumbersome system has prompted them to work to exceed all expectations to create a system that will be easy for pilots to use,” said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of operations and international affairs. “We know this hasn’t been an easy year for pilots. We’ve fielded a lot of complaints on the system; we’ve encouraged customs to incorporate pilots’ suggestions; and we’re eager to see this new product.”
May 18, 2010