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AOPA, CBP building on progressAOPA, CBP building on progress

Following a successful campaign to end unwarranted searches of general aviation aircraft, AOPA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are looking at other ways to improve the experience of pilots flying cross-border operations.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is one of the many government agencies that have influence over general aviation. Photo by David Tulis.

Following a successful campaign to end unwarranted searches of general aviation aircraft, AOPA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are looking at other ways to improve the experience of pilots flying cross-border operations.

After a meeting in April with AOPA President Mark Baker, CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske spoke about how the agency is working with stakeholders to improve GA cross-border operations, including using new technology to make going through customs smoother and more consistent.

“We are committed to working with AOPA on different processing options, including mobile and trusted traveler technology, to ensure expeditious clearance of legitimate travelers while upholding the highest security standards,” said Kerlikowske.

Baker noted that cooperation between the organizations can benefit both pilots and national security.

“Under Commissioner Kerlikowske, not only has CBP ended the problem of unwarranted searches of GA aircraft, but the conversation has evolved into a collaborative effort to reduce both costs and unnecessary bureaucratic hoops while at the same time advancing our shared security interests,” said Baker. “He understands what the freedom to fly means to America and our economy, and we thank him for his openness, which will only lead to further positive developments.”

In 2013 AOPA started receiving numerous reports from members about unwarranted CBP ramp checks and searches. In response, AOPA reached out directly to CBP, filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, and enlisted the help of Congress to end the unwarranted stops.

Subsequently, CBP conducted a top-down review of its GA enforcement practices and changed training and operating procedures for its officers. The agency also announced the formation of a GA working group headed by CBP GA Program Manager Eric Rodriguez.

Since then, AOPA has stopped receiving unwarranted search complaints from members.

“CBP took a fresh look at the process and took action,” said AOPA Vice President of Operations and International Affairs Craig Spence. “That approach and open dialog has led to discussions on leveraging technology and streamlining procedures so trade and travel is facilitated while preserving security.”