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COPA meets with Department of U.S. Customs official regarding border crossing issues

By Kevin Psutka

 

While attending this year’s AirVenture I had the opportunity to meet privately with the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) program manager, Eric Rodriguez, to discuss issues with this recently introduced additional border crossing procedure – see: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/inspections_carriers_facilities/apis/e_apis_information.xml.

This mandatory system requires filing reports on the internet each time you cross the U.S. border, both entering with the intention of landing and exiting after landing in the U.S. (APIS reports are not necessary form transiting U.S. airspace such as over Maine from Quebec to New Brunswick).

COPA worked extensively on the development of APIS and succeeded in reducing some of the burden see:

http://archive.copanational.org/nonmembers/Newsletter/2009/Jan/COPASuccedsEng.htm but there remain some significant issues with the program.

At the outset of the meeting, I pointed out that the purpose of the meeting was not to try and stop the program (it was made very clear during the development of the rule that the U.S. has no intention of backing off from this program) but rather to highlight deficiencies, suggest improvements and to emphasize the need for better communication with organizations like COPA and education of users.

To Mr Rodriguez’s credit, he made himself accessible by manning a booth for the entire AirVenture and “facing the music” as well as dealing with complaints directly when contacted by email.

I have contacted him directly on several occasions and he always responded promptly. We agreed that it would be best not to encourage direct communication from users in the long term because he may become overloaded and side-tracked from his work to improve the system but he agreed that any issues brought to my attention could be relayed to him if necessary.

Sometimes, issues are simply a matter of lack of familiarity with the system that can be resolved by being pointed at the user guide and other information. To that end, I suggested some improvements to the guide.

Regarding better communication with organizations including COPA, he agreed to share the draft revision to the user guide with COPA for our comment before it is published.

There are several improvements to the website forms that will start showing up in the near future as CBP incorporates changes suggested by COPA and others.

For example, the current form retains crew information but dumps all passenger information with each report. The revised website will make an assumption that a departure or arrival report will normally be followed by a return report and offer the user the option of completing another report using the same crew and passenger information, modifying as necessary and then resubmitting.

A lengthy discussion centred on the fear that has been expressed to me about making mistakes and incurring a $5,000 penalty. Mr. Rodriguez stated that while the words on paper seem harsh (reports must be 100% sufficient – meaning 100% accurate and 100% complete) they are the legal words that give CBP the clout to issue penalties but the CBP is not looking to fine anyone who simply makes a mistake.

For those who have taken the time to thoroughly study the system and then use it for a border crossing, most have told me that it is not all that bad. We agreed that it is important, for the sake of commerce between our countries, to educate pilots about APIS and encourage them to try it.

We discussed the duplication of effort for anyone who requires an international waiver, such as for no transponder or no radio when crossing the border. A recently introduced procedure by the TSA requires an application process that is very similar to APIS and demands the same personal and aircraft information.

Although the TSA and CBP are under the same agency (Department of Homeland Security) they are currently not sharing this information. Mr. Rodriguez agreed to take this issue on with a view to using the information from APIS for the TSA waiver process.

Several other issues were discussed and I came away from the meeting confident that Mr. Rodriguez understands them and will work to improve the system. I was thankful for the opportunity to put a face to a name and exchange frank views about the program