Ten months after completing a top-down review of general aviation enforcement practices, Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) Office of Air and Marine has made changes that are resulting in improved enforcement and a more positive relationship with the GA community.
AOPA President Mark Baker and CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske met Aug. 4 to review the changes CBP has made to the way it interacts with GA pilots, trains officers, keeps records, and communicates with the GA community.
During the meeting CBP officials reported that since the agency began acting on the findings of its 2014 top-down review of GA enforcement actions, the number of GA aircraft it has stopped is down significantly, but the percentage of those aircraft engaged in illegal activity has increased dramatically. At the same time, AOPA has received no new reports of unwarranted stops and searches of GA aircraft or harsh treatment meted out to innocent GA pilots.
“This is good news for GA and for law enforcement,” said Baker following the meeting. “The changes CBP has made are proving effective, and we appreciate the agency’s willingness to work with us to ensure that general aviation pilots aren’t unfairly singled out or stopped and searched without cause. We look forward to building on this cooperative approach as we work with CBP on other issues, including finding ways to improve the cross-border experience for GA pilots who fly internationally.”
The review, which was dated Oct. 1, 2014, cited “opportunities for improvement” and resulted in changes to increase accountability; improve training; and use CBP, rather than local law enforcement, personnel for stops of GA aircraft. As a result of the review, CBP published guidance on pilot certificate inspections for field agents and officers, developed and implemented a standard operating procedure for pilot certificate inspections, and made changes to the way it trains officers and supervisors.
In a separate private meeting held between Baker and Kerlikowske on Aug. 4, the two discussed opportunities to improve the cross-border experience for GA pilots traveling internationally.
During the meeting, Baker noted that outdated regulations and procedures are discouraging cross-border GA traffic, which is having a substantial negative impact on businesses on both sides of the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. Baker asked Kerlikowske to move toward a risk-based approach to handling border crossings by GA aircraft and to ensure that procedures are consistent at all ports of entry. Baker also recommended a series of improvements to the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) that would provide greater flexibility and take advantage of new technology to speed the screening process. And he encouraged government-to-government information sharing that can help officials in Canada and Mexico learn from U.S. experiences as they develop their own eAPIS-style systems.
“Commissioner Kerlikowske was very receptive to our concerns and I look forward to increasing our cooperation on efforts to make it easier for GA pilots to travel internationally,” Baker said. “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to work with CBP and industry stakeholders to improve the border-crossing experience in ways that stimulate GA activity and support GA businesses.”
AOPA has been actively working with officials from the United States, Canada, and Mexico to improve border-crossing procedures and encourage international travel using GA aircraft.
In the days since Baker and Kerlikowske met, AOPA staff members have engaged with top-level CBP officials and received assurances that the agency will work with AOPA and others to improve the border-crossing process.