By Beatrice Thomas
Hogan said the facility will make it "a much smoother experience" for passengers flying between the Gulf and the US
Abu Dhabi International Airport could soon be offering US customs pre-clearance with Etihad Airways chief James Hogan saying he was confident the service would commence “very shortly”.
Under the agreement, signed last April, passengers flying from the UAE capital to any US city will be cleared by American customs and immigration officials before boarding their flight, speeding up the entry process and helping the US screen passengers who might be denied entry before flying to the country.
It is believed it is the first time a new destination has been approved for the service since Ireland in the 1980s. The US has operated customs pre-clearance in locations in Canada and some Caribbean islands since the 1950s and 1960s, according to the US Customs and Border Protection website.
A large number of US senators, the Airlines for America union group, the Global Business Travel Association and others have criticised the decision to add Abu Dhabi to the list, claiming it will divert resources from congested domestic airports.
Last month airline pilots, flight attendants, an industry trade group, and US lawmakers were in Philadelphia to protest against the facility, saying it would give an unfair competitive advantage to Etihad as the only carrier to fly to the US from Abu Dhabi.
Last year, reports suggested Abu Dhabi will pay 80 percent of the cost of the service but US customs and immigration officials will need to be based in the UAE. However US Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan has cosponsored legislation signed by 120 lawmakers that would block funding for the facility, local media reported.
Hogan said he was confident it will open this year.
Pressed on precisely when he told Arabian Business: "It's out of my hands but I'm very confident it will open up very shortly."
"I just think it's fantastic for anyone who's experienced the joys of entering US customs to be able to clear in Abu Dhabi and enter as a domestic passenger is good for us as an airline and it's also great for Abu Dhabi as a hub,” Hogan said at the Etihad Regional airline launch in Zurich.
“For the customer it's a much smoother experience to clear in Abu Dhabi and if there's a challenge, well then it can be settled in Abu Dhabi, so we're very excited about the new customs clearance operation."For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Standing in a queue after a 17-24 hour trip at US immigration is the last thing one wants to have to do, puts your mind at ease for the flight, and gets you into a domestic terminal which generally are less crowded. All in all there should be more locations. Its very useful in Calgary and takes the edge off of long flights which are stressful to begin with. Can't happen fast enough. Dubai next?
Smart move. Airline customer experience and competitive edge starts long before boarding and goes beyond disembarking. Not many Airlines got that yet, as they are purely thinking in terms of aviation and very Little in what can be done on the ground....There is still tremendous potential.