San Antonio airport officially port of entry, cargo doesn't clear customs until SA

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S.A. airport finally gets port of entry status
By Sean M. Wood
Express-News Business Writer

Private aircraft inbound from foreign countries no longer will have to stop in Laredo or other locations before continuing to San Antonio.The Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection will designate San Antonio International Airport permanently as an “airport of first landing” for private aircraft. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signed the order, and it was sent Tuesday to the Federal Register.

The order is expected to take effect in about 30 days.

“This is very exciting news,” Aviation Director Mark Webb said. “This is something that has been worked on for almost 10 years by a number of staff members and congressional delegations.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, has been one of those at the front of the campaign for the permanent change.

“This designation will significantly enhance business, commerce and trade relationships throughout Mexico,” Smith said in a statement. “The city of San Antonio will benefit from this greatly.”

Temporary legislation had granted the airport the designation, which is sometimes called “port of entry.” Airport officials reported an increase in general aviation traffic while the legislation was in effect during two 24-month periods.

“In 2000, when there was no port-of-entry status, we saw 841 private aircraft,” airport spokesman David Hebert said. “In 2006, we had it and it expired in November. So for 11 months, we saw 2,237.”

San Antonio International made the request Dec. 12, 2006, for permanent port-of-entry status.

Permanent status means private aircraft arriving in the United States from foreign countries can come straight to San Antonio International Airport to clear customs. Without that status, private aircraft were going elsewhere, like Laredo.

Smith and local officials argued that situation cost travelers time and the city money. The airport generates fuel fees from these aircraft, but Webb said those extra revenues are not the main benefit.

“This is more about our place as an economic engine in San Antonio,” he said. “The H-E-Bs, the AT&Ts, the Valeros, the corporate community in town flying back and forth from Mexico can do it on a much easier basis.”