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July 7, 2017

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), along with the San Antonio International Airport (SAT) and FBO SkyPlace, recently opened a customs clearing facility dedicated to general aviation.

The multi-year initiative to improve clearing options for general aviation gained steam when local business aviation operators made CBP and city officials aware of safety and service challenges with the previous arrangement, in which general aviation cleared in the same facility as commercial airlines.

“There were many safety concerns due to sharing space with such a mix of aircraft, as well as a wide range of ground service equipment,” said Tripp Riedel, vice president of aviation at Valero Energy. “Valero and other local operators worked with the city and made them aware of the issues.”

Local operators also credit CBP Port Director Lois Hunter for her cooperation and advocacy.

“She saw a need for improved safety and a better customer service experience,” said Marc Miller, aviation director for a local flight department. “Our flight department recognized the original facility as a safety risk and worked with local CBP representatives and the leadership of the city of San Antonio to help them understand the importance of customer service and safety for folks visiting San Antonio via general aviation.”

The new facility is expected to enhance safety and expedite clearing processes. Last fiscal year, CBP processed more than 22,000 international passengers at SAT. As many as 83 general aviation flights clear customs at SAT each day.

Miller considers the success at SAT an important lesson for individual aviators and those in the business aviation community.

“If you see a need at your airport to improve safety and services, don’t overlook it,” said Miller. “See it as a challenge and work to make an improvement. You have a voice and it’s an important voice to effect positive change in your community. Risk identification and risk mitigation are the keys to positive change.”