Can We Afford A New Immigrations Facility in Abu Dhabi?

by Chuck Donovan

Each time I go to work as an international pilot I get to experience the efficiency of our Federal Government, courtesy of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB).  (See my article “Border Security in the Airport“)

Sometimes airline passengers and crew get “pre-cleared” by CBP before they leave a foreign country.  Examples of CPB pre-clearance facilities are in Ireland, Bermuda, Aruba, and approximately eight locations in Canada.  This serves as a convenience to passengers in three ways.  First of all it means they usually wait in a much shorter line.  Secondly, it allows their flights to land anywhere in our country instead of being limited to airports that have Customs and Immigrations processing.  Thirdly, the processing takes place before the long flight you are about to board.

Consider my previous article on immigrations and think of our national debate on  immigration.  Consider all of the things you think should be prioritized to achieve a reasonable and reliable immigrations policy.  Where in that prioritized list would you put the establishment and staffing of a new immigrations facility in Abu Dhabi?

Here is a statement from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), my pilots union:

The Department of Homeland Security is actively working towards opening a new Customs and Border Protection (CBP) preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi. Such a site would greatly deviate from the intent of the preclearance program and place U.S. flagged carriers at a strong disadvantage to a foreign carrier.

Preclearance sites allow passengers to clear U.S. customs before departure from their point of origin. This allows passengers to fly directly to any airport in the U.S. (not just those with CBP facilities), as well as avoid long lines often present at customs check points at our nation’s airports. There are currently 15 CDP preclearance sites strategically located at airports where U.S. carriers perform a considerable amount of the flying (e.g., Dublin and Montreal) or all of the flying (e.g., Bermuda). No U.S. flagged carriers fly to or from Abu Dhabi. In fact, the only carrier that would benefit from this change would be Etihad Airways, the national airline of Abu Dhabi, and the fastest growing airline in the world (fueled, literally, with government oil money) which competes directly against U.S. carriers on many international routes.

A discussion of the efficiency of preclearance facilities vs. gateway U.S. facilities would be interesting.  Intuitively we can guess that some combination of the two would be best.  However, at this point we are talking about a Federal government that is broke.  We don’t have the money for a new CPB facility anywhere, why is this one being considered all the way up to the level of the President?

Here is your explanation:

“ALPA said that there are growing concerns that the DHS will seek to finance a new preclearance facility at Abu Dhabi International airport by requesting reimbursement from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government.   … The arrangement, funded by the UAE for a UAE-owned airport to benefit a UAE-sponsored airline, will undercut the U.S. carriers’ ability to compete in the global marketplace.” (1.)

Friends in liberty, of course a union would like our government to protect jobs.  That intent is clear in the ALPA statements.  Additionally, there is the issue of protectionism.  As a Libertarian, I am sensitive to these things.

However, we are not talking about a level playing field or a reasonable immigrations and customs policy.  This issue is about something else.  First, there is the question of competition against state sponsored businesses.  Secondly, there is the question of our so-called Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accepting funds from a foreign government, particularly a Middle Eastern government.  Who would the DHS be working for then? 

I have been working in the airlines for 26 years.  Since 1976 I have paid attention to the U.S. airline industry and witnessed the transition from a regulated to the currently so-called “de-regulated” airline environment.  While at this job I have worked through three mergers, a bankruptcy, and a contract that terminated my retirement plan and cut my salary by 42%.  I know what airline competition looks and feels like.  Knowing all this, I am not afraid of competition.   … on a level playing field.  Competition against a state sponsored business – I fear that greatly.

Our government should not be looking for favors to hand out to other countries.  It should be looking for diplomatic ways to ensure the world has is headed towards the very thing trumpeted in Democratic and Republican speeches, but never delivered by them.  It should be encouraging free competition, not special favors.

The Abu Dhabi preclearance facility should not be authorized.

In the end it is all about not being afraid of letting freedom win.





(1.) “U.S. Customs Preclearance Facilities Must Benefit U.S. Economy, Airlines, and Workers“, February 20, 2013, Pilot Partisan ALPA Int’l,