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This UK airport is hoping to be the first to offer ‘preclearance’ on US flights



US border control could soon be moved to UK airports – with Edinburgh setting the pace.

“Preclearance” of American frontier formalities has been commonplace for decades for travellers from Canada and Ireland to the US.

Dublin airport is a thriving hub for transatlantic flights, with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff processing passengers ahead of their flights – allowing the traveller to leave the destination airport immediately on arrival, or board another plane.

But no UK airport has set up such facilities, despite repeated rumours that they might.

Now the chief executive of Edinburgh airport has told The Independent he is talking to the US and UK governments about the “great opportunity” to establish preclearance in Scotland.

Gordon Dewar said: “For a long time we’ve understood the value of preclearance. We see the benefits when we look at Dublin airport and others, and we’ve been constantly growing our direct American connectivity over the previous years. So we know it’s a great opportunity.

“When you arrive into the States, you walk out the door and get on with whatever it is you’re hoping to do in the States with absolute reliability. Or if you’re transferring, which a lot of our customers do through some of these main hubs, the connection times can be much, much shorter and the baggage goes through automatically.”

Preclearance requires a large financial investment to install facilities for CBP, and to create a secure “airside” area for pre-cleared passengers to wait for their flights. But the evidence from Dublin airport that travellers place a high value on avoiding the queues on arrival.

Edinburgh has by far the widest transatlantic links of any Scottish airport, with jetBlue joining Delta on the route to New York JFK. Delta also serves Atlanta and Boston, while United flies to New York Newark, Washington DC and Chicago. But the Irish capital has far more US flights.

“If you look at what Dublin have achieved: they’ve got a similar size population to Scotland in Ireland, and yet they’ve probably got about four times as much connectivity to the States,” Mr Dewar said.

“A big part of that is about the preclearance offer.”

Preclearance could also help establish new American routes, the Edinburgh airport CEO said.

“A lot of US airports are actually quite capacity constrained on the international side, but they tend to have more domestic capacity.

“If there is a shortage of international slots at a given American airport, it’s quite likely they can find a domestic one.

“Therefore an Edinburgh option with preclearance would be able to go ahead without running into capacity constraints.”

French frontier police currently check departing passengers at the port of Dover, Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal and London St Pancras International. But installing American officials at UK airport will require new legislation.

Mr Dewar said: “We’re talking to many stakeholders, including the US and UK governments, and everyone appears to believe this is a good thing to do. But we need to get the legislation in place.

“Then we can start the process of actually designing and building and operating what we think will be a phenomenal new offer from Edinburgh to the rest of the United States.”

He estimates the likely timeframe as two to three years after an agreement is signed between the UK and US.

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