Customs cracks down on airlines that missed deadline for supplying passenger information

Customs cracks down on airlines that missed deadline for supplying passenger information

The Customs Service this month implemented a three-phase plan to improve compliance with the Aviation Transportation and Security Act.

The act, which became law in November, requires airlines that fly international routes into the United States to give Customs officials information such as names, dates of birth, citizenship and gender of crew and passengers before their arrival.

Airlines had until Jan. 20 to comply with the law, which also requires them to supply passport and visa information and complete itineraries for passengers and crew members.

Passenger data

For any flight arriving in the country, an airline is required to send information about the crew before the flight departs and passenger data 15 minutes after departure, said Mark Reefe, program manager of the Advanced Passenger Information System.

The Federal Aviation Administration asked Customs to ensure that crew data is sent before departure as a safety measure, he said.

More than 100 carriers participate in the program, but many do not provide all the required information, Reefe said.
To boost compliance, the plan has three provisions:

  • Effective immediately, Customs will not approve new landing rights requests from carriers that do not give APIS data and will assess a penalty against the pilot of each flight that fails to comply with the law.

  • Beginning April 1, Customs will fine carriers up to $5,000 for each flight that does not provide at least 70 percent complete and accurate APIS data.

  • The minimum standard for complete and accurate data will increase to 97 percent on June 1.

    Before November, participation in the program was voluntary.

    Air carriers register the information at airport check-in counters worldwide either through optical character recognition document readers or by manually keying in the information.

    Customs has loaned about 16,000 RTE 6701 OCR readers from Rochford Thompson Equipment Ltd. of Berkshire, England, to air carriers to provide the APIS data.

    The data is transmitted electronically to Custom's Newington Data Center in Springfield, Va., where the agency runs APIS on an IBM 9672-X67 server under the 64-bit z/OS.

    Within seconds, APIS data is checked against the Interagency Border Inspection System and the FBI's National Crime Information Center wanted-persons files, Reefe said.

    Combined databases

    IBIS, which also resides at the Newington center, includes the combined databases of Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the State Department and 21 other agencies. IBIS also gives Customs workers access to NCIC.

    After the checks, APIS sends the information to Customs personnel at the airport of arrival. If a passenger or crew member is wanted, Customs alerts law enforcement authorities.

    Since it began operation in 1988, APIS has helped identify thousands of suspects, Reefe said. Last year, it processed information about 57 million passengers.

    Although the Customs Office of Information Technology maintains APIS, INS pays for some its operational costs. For this fiscal year, Customs expects to spend $30 million on APIS.
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