United States customs officers will carry out document checks on customers heading for flights out of Brussels Airport, finance minister Alexander De Croo said.
Speaking this morning on VRT radio, De Croo – whose ministry includes the customs and excise service – announced that an agreement was signed last week between the two governments to allow what is known as a ‘preclearance’ operation to be installed at the airport.
In the near future, 30 American customs agents will arrive in Brussels to carry out checks on passengers travelling to the US, to help lighten the load on customs services at the main US destinations – currently New York (Brussels Airlines) and Washington DC (United).
The agreement will make travel to the US easier, De Croo said, by saving passengers from Brussels having to go through the procedures in the US. It will also make Brussels Airport more popular with American travellers.
“American flights feed into the African network, where Brussels Airlines is so strong,” he said. That should lead to profitable growth for the airport.
Another advantage is that preclearance at Brussels would allow an airline to fly into La Guardia airport, where there are no customs facilities, instead of busier airports like JFK and Newark.
For passengers, baggage checked at Brussels is automatically checked through to the destination airport, for anyone with a connection to another US city.
And in fact the agreement comes at the request of Brussels Airport. The management is “satisfied” with the result, said spokesperson Ihsane Chioua Lekhli.
When the new arrangement will come into force is not yet known.
“The work is only now beginning,” Chioua Lekhli said. “We are now going to work with the airlines and other partners to see what the impact will be on operations and costs, and how we can organise everything practically.”
At present the only European airports with US preclearance are Dublin and Shannon in Ireland. Most other preclearance airports are in Canada, as well as the Bahamas, Aruba, Nassau and Abu Dhabi.