Aug. 28, 2015

Plans to explore greater interoperability of trusted traveler programs in the U.S., Canada and Mexico are an encouraging sign that efforts to improve international flight clearances are gaining momentum.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Public Safety Canada and the Secretariat of Governance of Mexico outlined steps to leverage each country’s trusted traveler networks and boost reciprocity. While the current plan will not benefit business aviation directly, “Our hope is that we will soon be able to leverage these benefits for business aviation,” said Sarah Wolf, NBAA senior manager of security and facilitation.

Possibilities include using programs like Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check and the U.S. Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) to set up expedited clearance procedures for business aircraft passengers, or using pre-clearance facilities outside the U.S. for business aircraft flights, Wolf noted.

Separately, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen met recently with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske to discuss improving the facilitation of N-registered business aircraft operators returning to the U.S. CPB agreed to set up a business aviation-working group, which will start its work later this year.

While the two issues are different, both underscore that industry and government are making progress on expanding existing tools beyond those used to process commercial airline passengers. Laura Everington, senior manager of government and industry affairs at Universal Weather & Aviation, noted that work between industry and government, and CBP in particular, has been fruitful. One example: the revamped overflight exemption process introduced two years ago.

“We’ve gotten rid of a lot of the overlap in vetting processes and eliminated redundancies,” said Everington. “We’ve been making things much more fluid for [business] aircraft entering and exiting the U.S.”

Everington believes that an expedited clearance process for business aviation passengers is feasible. For instance, if APIS data is transmitted accurately and everybody on board is part of a recognized trusted traveler program, the only task left once the aircraft arrives is to scan passports. A CBP agent carrying a portable scanner could meet the flight and do this.

Everington emphasizes that while such a scenario won’t be in place tomorrow, recent progress is encouraging. “Things are changing, and for the better,” she said.