Edinburgh Airport’s bid to be UK’s first with screening for US-bound passengers ‘closer than ever’

Scotland’s busiest terminal steps up campaign to help further boost its “phenomenal” transatlantic traffic growth

Edinburgh Airport becoming the first hub in the UK where US-bound passengers can clear immigration and customs before taking off is “closer than ever”, its chief executive has told business leaders.

Gordon Dewar is stepping up a campaign by Scotland’s busiest airport launched more than a decade ago following its “phenomenal growth” of direct transatlantic traffic, which increased last year to 628,000 passengers – 48 per cent more than in 2019. Its US routes include to New York, where JetBlue will join United and Delta in May.

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United was the first to provide Edinburgh with a US link in 2004, and also flies to Chicago and Washington DC – 75 per cent of whose passengers are visiting Scotland. Other airlines fly to Atlanta, Boston and Orlando.

Edinburgh Airport is mounting a joint bid with Gatwick for US entry checks for passengers to be made before departure. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)Edinburgh Airport is mounting a joint bid with Gatwick for US entry checks for passengers to be made before departure. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
Edinburgh Airport is mounting a joint bid with Gatwick for US entry checks for passengers to be made before departure. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)

Mr Dewar said a deal between the US and UK governments over a “pre-clearance” facility for Edinburgh had been “really close” in 2019, but was scuppered by the Covid pandemic.

Airport officials said the facility’s expected £10 million cost was significantly lower than previous estimates because of new technology, which would make operations less labour intensive.

If given the go-ahead, a processing hall would be created beyond the terminal’s security check area, on the runway side of the building, which would take up to three years to complete.

Edinburgh, which is bidding with sister airport Gatwick, hopes to emulate the success of Dublin, which has had full pre-clearance facilities since 2011.

Mr Dewar told an Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday: "Before you get on a plane in Dublin, you clear American immigration and customs, so you arrive as a domestic passenger.

"You don’t then worry about how long you [would have to] stand in immigration when you get to [New York] Newark, or Chicago, or wherever else you’re going.

"Really importantly, you don’t have to pick up your bag and transfer it yourself onto the next flight if you’re making a connection, and the connection times are much shorter – usually about half if you don’t have to go through that process because the airlines can confidentially predict you’ll make the next flight.

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“There’s other benefits as well, in terms of quite a lot of American airports not having any more international connectivity capacity – no more gates and stands to put airlines on.

"If we can open up domestic stands, then we have opportunities from Edinburgh to get into airports that would otherwise not be able to take us, so there’s a huge opportunity.”

Mr Dewar said: "We are talking to the US government and the UK government and everybody says isn’t this a great idea. But what we are missing is getting a few civil servants sitting round a table actually thrashing out the details of that deal.

"We have really got to get the Home Office to pay attention. What we need is a UK government invitation to the Americans to get this over the line and make this happen. The potential is massive and we need to get it.”

However, the US Government suggested any deal could be still some way off.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in London said: “US Customs and Border Protection meets regularly with potential partners around the world to discuss its assessment process for determining which airports meet the requirements for hosting US Preclearance.

"In general, this is a lengthy evaluation process that requires several years before a determination may be made.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We support Edinburgh Airport’s efforts to establish US customs pre-clearance arrangements as this could deliver wider economic benefits to Scotland.

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"This is a matter for the UK and US Governments, and we encourage them to work cooperatively with the Airport to ensure progress is made.”

A Scotland Office spokesperson said: "We are in touch with the Home Office and Edinburgh Airport on the issue."



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