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Electronic customs notification unworkable, AOPA says

A customs proposal that would require electronic filing of passenger manifests “places an incredibly large and wholly unnecessary burden on general aviation that will result in negligible security benefits,” AOPA told the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in formal comments filed on Dec. 4.

“We strongly oppose the electronic transmission mandate in the proposed rule and have identified significant problems with other requirements,” wrote AOPA Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Cebula. Electronic filing “does not mitigate any threat, vulnerability, or consequence. It is merely shifting a burden from the government to an industry that is ill-equipped to bear it.”

CBP wants general aviation pilots to log onto the Internet and provide the government with the names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers of every person in the aircraft at least one hour before the flight crosses a U.S. border. The requirement would apply to flights leaving the United States as well as return flights.

But AOPA argued that Internet access is far from universal, even in the United States. In fact, some 63 percent of AOPA members who fly internationally report that the Internet is not available from any of their departure points outside the United States.

And CBP’s proposed solution to that problem—flying to another location where Internet access is available before returning to the United States—is unworkable, costly, and in some cases, dangerous for general aviation pilots.

AOPA could find no logic in CBP’s requirement that pilots notify the agency when departing the United States. After all, general aviation aircraft must already “file an FAA flight plan and be in communication with air traffic control when crossing the borders.”

Other items in the CBP’s proposal were also outside the norm of small GA operations. CBP, for example, wants a 24-hour point of contact for the aircraft. ‘These aircraft are not operating with the support of large dispatch or flight facilities,” AOPA said. “The 24-hour point of contact is the person flying the aircraft.”

CBP also wants to know the aircraft’s assigned transponder code at least one hour before departure. AOPA pointed out that codes usually aren’t issued by air traffic control until just before departure when the pilot contacts clearance delivery, or in the air if the aircraft is VFR and requesting flight following.

AOPA said that current rules and procedures for light GA aircraft entering the United States are adequate. Pilots must already notify CBP of their intended arrival time at a port of entry, along with the pilot’s name and number and nationalities of passengers. However, under current rules, pilots can provide that notification by telephone, radio, or relay through air traffic control or flight service. And small GA aircraft aren’t likely to be transporting unknown individuals. Some 95 percent of AOPA members report that when they fly internationally, only family, friends, or business acquaintances are onboard the aircraft.

The association urged CBP to return to its previous policy of risk-based security measures. “Current regulations and policy documents differentiate between aircraft size and weight, with more stringent rules for aircraft with a maximum certified gross takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or more. As such, AOPA questions why CBP has abandoned that approach with this proposed rule.”

AOPA said that CBP “can and should” provide simple alternatives to GA pilots that would allow the security agency to obtain sufficient and timely border-crossing information “without creating an extraordinary burden on pilots and passengers on private aircraft.”

CBP must now consider all of the comments received on its proposed regulations before issuing a final rule.

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