It is difficult to imagine our own government is using U.S. taxpayer dollars to foot the bill for preclearance services in Abu Dhabi while passengers wait in lines up to four hours to clear customs at U.S. gateways. This diversion of taxpayer dollars to assist wealthy foreign airlines at the expense of U.S.-based operations cannot be justified. Our position is that no U.S. taxpayer dollars should be invested outside the U.S. before CBP corrects the mess at our own ports of entry. Can’t we all agree that U.S. customs resources should first and foremost be used to benefit the very passengers who fund preclearance facilities through the taxes and user fees they pay?
It comes as no surprise that government and airport authorities in the UAE welcome DHS’s decision. In a highly competitive international marketplace, what foreign government or competitor wouldn’t? The UAE views Etihad Airways as a strategic asset and its stated goal is to make Abu Dhabi International Airport the premiere worldwide hub. Perhaps the U.S. government should steal a page out of its playbook and show the same kind of support for its own domestic airline industry.
It is worth noting that DHS entered into this agreement knowing the U.S. Congress had directed it not to do so. Congressional approval had been granted for a very limited reimbursement pilot program at five domestic airports. The DHS-UAE agreement flies in the face of that directive. It’s no wonder more than 150 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle wrote to DHS expressing their concern over the issue and that so many lawmakers have expressed considerable skepticism over DHS and CBP’s national security argument for their action.
The U.S. airline industry is not afraid of competition, but we expect our government to work with us, not against us, to level the playing field. Our industry supports 10 million jobs and more than $1 trillion in annual economic activity. Our government’s actions should be designed to expand the U.S. airline industry’s ability to drive the economy, not undermine it. DHS should heed the message it has received from Congress, the airline industry, and aviation and travel professionals - halt this flawed agreement and instead pledge to work collaboratively with us to resolve lengthy wait times at U.S. airports.
Calio is president and CEO of Airlines for America. Moak is president of Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l. Wytkind is president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.