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  • Writer's pictureOussama Salah

The Saga of Abu Dhabi's CBP Pre-Clearance Facility

Finally on Friday, 24 January 2014 the US Customs and Border Protection Pre-Clearance facility opened in Abu Dhabi International Airport. A4A, Pilots' Associations and of course the ever present Delta spearheaded the opposition to open the facility. So the UAE government, more likely the Abu Dhabi Government, paid up 85% of the cost includingy the salaries of US CBP officials. There were a lot of reasons cited opposing the facility; the investment could have been used to alleviate congestion in US international gateways and unfair competition to US carriers, who by the way do not serve Abu Dhabi.

Personally, I would have preferred the facility in Dubai, where there are more flights to the USA including Delta and United.

To put things in perspective approximately 180 million international passengers pass through US International Airports of which 58% are carried by US carriers and 42% by international carriers. Of these passengers 6 million come from the Middle East of which 41% (2.4 million) are carried by US carriers and 59% (3.6 million) by international carriers. At this time Etihad operate to JFK, IAD and ORD. 2014 will see a double daily to JFK and operation into LAX and DFW. All things considered Etihad will probably carry around 750 thousand passengers who will go through the pre-clearance facility, out of a total of more than 90 million passengers, less than 1%. The investment in the facility is minimal and will hardly dent the congestion problem.

Delta and others screamed about unfair competitive advantage, well they do not operate to Abu Dhabi, and it is unlikely that anyone will travel from Europe or Israel to fly Etihad just to avoid congestion. If anything Emirates, Qatar Airways and maybe Royal Jordanian, Saudia and Kuwait Airways should have lobbied against the facility. They are more affected by it than any US carrier.

The CEO of Norwegian lately said US carriers are afraid of competition, I tend to agree, but then this is another story.

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