US Preclearance Program
Back in October 2014, the Department of Homeland Security announced (refer to link for information) plans to expand its preclearance program at foreign airports in an effort to enhance passenger screening prior to flight departure with US as the final destination.
The program began informally between the US and Canada in 1952 at Toronto, Ontario following a request from American Airlines (AA) to the airport to set up a dedicated area for US bound passengers where they would be screened separately. After screen, they would be placed in a sterile area where the passengers would not require additional customs checks at arrivals in the US (i.e they are treated as domestic passengers and would not require security or customs checks whether they are ending their flight or transiting).
The program expanded with the passage of the 1974 Air Transport Preclearance Act, the 1999 Preclearance Act and the 2001 Canada-US Agreement on Air Transport Preclearance. The agreement is fully reciprocal where both countries can set up facilities to handle outbound passengers. As of today, the Canadian government has not excised this option.
The last facility to open was at the Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in January 2014 which operates to 9 US destinations (6 passengers/3 cargos only).
Currently, there are fifteen airports in six countries participating in this program. They are noted in the infographic below:
Most of the facilities are located in Canada given close border between the two countries.
In the immediate future, there are five locations which will likely have new preclearance facilities in place (refer to the infographic below):
- Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), a leisure destination, has been approved for a facility since 2009. However, the airport has not been upgraded to create a designated sterile area for US bound passengers yet.
- Dubai International Airport (DXB) will have a facility ready within 2015 which will eliminate the competitive advantage currently being enjoyed by AUH.
- Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT) is being courted by the Deportment of Homeland Security to build a facility. There is no official news on whether the Japanese authorities have agreed to the arrangement yet. However, Tokyo-US is served by over 50 flights daily. It is an airport that could benefit with a preclearance facility. However, it could create logistic problems as all the US airlines are operated out of different spaces at the airport. Space constraints could make it more challenging to house all of them together.
- Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) and Oslo Airport, Gardermoen (OSL) and their government applied for facilities to be built. Given the US footprint to both airports (ARN has flights to Newark (EWR), Chicago (ORD) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL), OSL has flights to Newark (EWR) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL)), it would not be as difficult for both airports to create a dedicate sterile zone for US bound flights.
There are pros and cons on having a preclearance facility.
- Department of Homeland Security can screen passengers at the origin airport and prevent those who do not meet the entrance requirements prior to flight. This will ease administration and time in the US and may increase safety.
- Since there are few world airports with the facility implemented, they could use it as a competitive advantage to market convenience and time efficiency. This is especially useful for business travellers who want to spend less time at immigration upon arrival in the US.
- Depending on the size of the airport and number of flights going to the US, it can be very difficult to create a specific sterile area for these passengers. It would not be very feasible for London Heathrow (LHR) or Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airports to build such a space without significant costs or logistical challenges.
- Building a facility does not guarantee additional traffic in and out of the US to the destination. This could increase costs of operation.
Even with some of the cons, it is not a bad idea to study whether the country, airlines and airport operators can benefit with a US preclearance facility. There is a big push by the US authorities (refer to link for more information) to encourage foreign partner countries to create a space in 2015 onwards.
June 4, 2015 Update
The US Department of Homeland Security identified the following airports as candidates for possible preclearance expansion. They include:
- Brussels Airport (BRU), Belgium;
- Punta Cana Airport (PUJ), Dominican Republic;
- Narita International Airport (NRT), Japan;
- Amsterdam Airport Schipol (AMS), Netherlands;
- Oslo Airport (OSL), Norway;
- Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD), Spain;
- Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN), Sweden;
- Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST), Turkey;
- London Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom (LHR) and
- Manchester Airport (MAN), United Kingdom.
By The Numbers
These countries represent some of the busiest last points of departure to the United States – in 2014, nearly 20 million passengers traveled from these ten airports to the US.
Additionally, IST, AMS and MAD have a place in our 2014 Top 30 Busiest Airport list. Their placements are No.13, 14 and 27 (refer to link for the entire list).
Of note, IST has the most used for this facility has its home airline Turkish Airlines (TK) already serves 7 US cities (ORD, IAH, SFO, LAX, JFK, IAD, BOS) (with an eighth (MIA) joining in October 2015) using mostly Airbus A330s/A340s Boeing 777s with a weekly passenger capacity of over 13,000.
AMS serves as a major hub for Air France (AF)/KLM (KL) and its joint venture partner Delta Air Lines (DL). Creating a preclearance facility would enable US passengers to enjoy seamless transfers on DL flights.
MAN is an interesting choice as most of the current airlines serving between the US and this secondary UK city only uses smaller Boeing 757s and 767s aircrafts. With a preclearance facility built, this lower cost airport could attract LCCs like Norwegian to build a hub there. Additionally, this could also renew interests from Emirates (EK) to start flights from New York City (JFK) again as it is capable of handling the Airbus A380 double decker.
Air travel got easier with the introduction of the US preclearance program in 1952. While there have been progress made over the last 60+ years, the evolution of the program took shape at the end of 2014 and early 2015. Expect new airport operators to work closely with its government and airlines to think and plan for such a facility when they are building new terminals or airports.