Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Fix eAPIS

The Department of Homeland Security implemented eAPIS a little more than a year ago. Having flown more internationally than domestically in the last month, I can now unequivocally state that it is a horrible system. I have no problem with the general concept of having the passenger manifest and passport numbers sent in advance for arrivals. I understand the need to balance security against privacy and convenience.

Here are the major flaws:

  • Internet access required. Outside the US, where flight plans are often still on paper, hand walked or faxed in, Internet access is far from a given. Mandating Internet access is unrealistic.
  • Departure manifests. If I drive my car from Boston to Toronto, I can get on a flight to almost anywhere in the world. I do not need to inform the US Government prior to departing the country by car. Why do I need to tell them if I leave by private plane?
  • Cannot cancel a manifest. If a manifest is submitted and then the flight is canceled or delayed a day, a completely new manifest has to be submitted. I already know in advance the flight is canceled. There would be less confusion for everyone if I could cancel or modify the manifest rather than re-submitting it.
  • Still need to call local customs office. While eAPIS replaced the 178 form, most Airports of Entry still expect a call on the day of arrival to confirm.

In contrast, Canada has been operating the CANPASS system for years. CANPASS addresses these flaws in a simple way.

  • Advise by phone. A manifest can be submitted and updated simply by phone. A change in tail number is a simple quick call, not the complete submission of a new manifest. The same main number removes the need to notify the local office, instead of keeping a directory of all Customs and Immigration offices across the country.
  • No departure manifests.

The CBP web site is so bad that multiple vendors have stepped offering alternatives. At least the CBP had the foresight to specify an XML submission format as an alternative to their horrible user interface, leaving companies like to make a better user experience.

Nevertheless, if CBP adopted some of the common sense of the CANPASS system, the system would be a lot more usable for everyone involved.

More at the AOPA ASF Blog

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