The Wall Street Journal reported a few days ago, that the White House has agreed to open a Customs & Border Protection outpost in Abu Dhabi, which will help passengers flying out from the AUH airport to pre-clear American Customs & Immigration formalities before getting on that plane.
The CBP has been offering this facility to some countries, such as Canada, Ireland and its Caribbean counterparts, but this is for the first time it is going almost half way across the world to the Middle-East to offer such a service. Who benefits? Etihad Airways, but naturally, since they are the only ones who currently fly non-stops between the USA and UAE from that airport.
Interestingly, this news is coming out in the midst of the sequester cuts, which like View From the Wing writes, are going to add to travel times and delays. And guess the response? That Abu Dhabi is going to foot the bill on this one.
Obviously, Etihad and the Abu Dhabi are trying to size up to Emirates, which is now one of the bigger boys of aviation and are adding up as many USPs they can try to as a late starter, including the Equity Alliance.
And not surprisingly, a lot of criticism is coming from the American and European airline groups on this one, and from members of the Congress themselves. Quoting the link above,
Both the AEA and A4A claim the deal, signed recently between the US and the UAE and which will involve the stationing of US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers in Abu Dhabi thereby allowing passengers to clear US immigration procedures when embarking in the Emirate, will give Etihad a “competitive advantage” while at the same time “being detrimental to a level playing field in the transatlantic aviation market.” The AEA went on the claim that the measure in Abu Dhabi has a distortive knock-on effect on the EU-US transport market, as at present, in order to avoid long security queues during rush hours at US ports of entry, European airlines are forced to change their flight schedules, putting “connectivity, commercial opportunities and passenger convenience” at stake. Echoing the AEA, the A4A called on the US Department of Homeland Security to drop the plan, saying it “disadvantages US citizens and other visitors who are not adequately served by the CBP today, often waiting hours to clear customs when returning to the United States.”
We’ll see how this plays out, but this sure may be a crowd puller for the Asian market which may look at AUH as a potential hub. Who knows the American airlines will drop the protests quietly as well and start a flight or few to AUH. And the next requests for such a gateway will come from, not surprisingly, another Middle-East based airline.
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