A deal between the U.S. authorities and the United Arab Emirates was signed earlier this week to establish a U.S. customs facility to be based at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The Association of European Airlines (AEA) strongly believes that this measure will provide competitive advantage to the local carrier and will be detrimental to a level playing field in the transatlantic aviation market.
The concept to create a preclearance operation in Abu Dhabi has been opposed by the European industry several times. Setting up a system means that passengers departing from or transferring at Abu Dhabi International Airport will be cleared for customs on the spot and will be able to avoid long waiting hours when arriving in the United States. At the same time, the waiting time for European passengers to be screened for explosives and cleared to enter the United States by American Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers has recently reached an unacceptable level. Due to the foreseen budgetary and staff cuts announced in the federal budget, it is anticipated that the situation will worsen in the future.
“We believe that the U.S. authorities are getting their priorities wrong. This is a clear example that some carriers and their governments are given preferences provided that they pay for the investment and the deployment” said Athar Husain Khan, acting Secretary General of AEA. “European airlines are forced to change their flight schedules in order to avoid rush hours at the customs clearance in the USA, putting connectivity, commercial opportunities and passenger convenience at stake. The measure in Abu Dhabi has a distortive effect on the liberalised EU-US transport market, which is the largest in the world with clear benefits to industry, consumers and the economy. AEA calls on constructive discussions between the respective parties in order to deal with this issue and to avoid further conflicts.”