CONCERN is being expressed that cutbacks at the US pre-clearance facility at Shannon Airport will damage business.
American officials attached to the Department of Homeland Security will work three hours less on weekdays, it has emerged.
And while Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said only “one small flight” at Shannon would be affected, Shannon sources believe it will hamper both existing and future airline and private jet business.
Pre-clearance for US-bound passengers - which means they don’t have to go through customs and immigration checks when they land on American soil - opened at Shannon following a €20 million investment in 2009. A similar service opened in Dublin in 2010 but Shannon retains a unique advantage in being the only airport outside the Americas permitted to clear private and corporate jets.
Speaking at the Irish Business Aviation Convention at Dromoland, Minister Varadkar said the decision had been taken by the US authorities.
“It isn’t just a matter for us but for the US authorities. They are the ones who pay for it, they pay for the staff although the capital investment in the airports came from the government,” said Minister Varadkar.
“The shift is being reduced, I think from 7am to 7pm at the moment, to 4pm. Three hours are being knocked off which obviously isn’t good news for the airport but affects one small flight of 18 people.”
The minister was responding to Joe Millar, executive chairman of Transaero Engineering Ireland, the maintenance firm which has just opened in Shannon. Mr Millar said Transaero, Russia’s second biggest airline, was interested in using the Shannon facility to pre-clear passengers en route from Moscow to the United States
“Any curtailment in time of operation of CBP would not help,” Mr Millar said.
The small service referred to by Minister Varadkar is British Airways business class-only service from London City to New York. This is a twice-daily service used by executives keen to get back to the US after daytime meetings in London. Some fear that the closure of CBP in the late afternoon could force BA to stop using Shannon altogether.
Minister Varadkar said he had been assured by US authorities they remained “committed” to pre-clearance at Shannon.