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Airlines Seek to Deny Funding for Overseas Customs Station

The dispute about Norwegian Air Service’s request to expand service to the United States piggybacks on the fight by American air carriers and their pilots to deny funding in fiscal 2014 spending legislation for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance facility at Abu Dhabi’s international airport.

The $65 million facility, already under construction, would be funded mostly by the United Arab Emirates government, which also owns a controlling interest of Etihad, the flagship airline.

The White House inked an agreement last year to staff the facility with customs agents, over strong objections from Airlines for America and the Air Line Pilots Association, both of which said the facility would give Etihad an unfair advantage because no U.S. carriers directly serve Abu Dhabi.

Etihad, in turn, has signed agreements to purchase hundreds of new aircraft in the coming years, all intended to boost the airline’s ability to compete for highly lucrative international passengers.

Opponents of the facility have backed stand-alone legislation (HR 3488) sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Meehan and Oregon Democrat Peter A. DeFazio that would require a study on the impact on U.S. businesses before any overseas customs facility could open.

While the pilots union and other critics of the Abu Dhabi customs facility support the Meehan-DeFazio bill, they also hope to persuade appropriators to zero out funding for the station in the 2014 omnibus now under construction.

Congress did deny funding for new customs preclearance facilities in the fiscal 2013 spending resolution (PL 113-6) that kept the government operating through last September.

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