By Ray O’Hanlon
Continental Airlines has no plans to discontinue paying its share of the cost of U.S. immigration pre-clearance facilities at Ireland’s two main trans-Atlantic airports, Dublin and Shannon, a Continental spokeswoman, Lara Gorman, said this week.
The Irish Echo reported last week that Aer Lingus was examining its expenditure with regard to the pre-clearance facilities.
Airlines operating the Atlantic routes, Aer Lingus, Continental and Delta, subsidize the pre-clearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon by way of landing and other airport ground fees.
Aer Lingus believes it can save as much as euro 1 million a year if it withdraws its share of funding. The troubled carrier is currently examining every area of spending in the context of its survival plan.
Meanwhile, any threat to the pre-clearance operation will be viewed seriously by the Irish government.
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“It was a hard won concession and a lot of work went into securing it,” one government source said.
A spokesman at the Department of Transport in Dublin, Tom Rowley, said that the Cabinet was closely watching the situation with regard to pre-clearance.
The Irish government has already indicated its general support for the Aer Lingus survival plan. But that does not exclude the possibility that the government, which owns 95 percent of Aer Lingus, will not be potentially opposed to certain aspects of it.
In the case of pre-clearance, it would appear to be a question of who will fill the financial void if Aer Lingus withdraws its support. Only five countries and jurisdictions in the world have U.S. immigration pre-clearance facilities. In addition to Ireland, the others are Canada, the Bahamas, Aruba and Bermuda.
Pre-clearance was first operated at Shannon Airport in 1986. The INS expanded the program to Dublin airport in 1994.
The operation has allowed passengers arriving in the U.S. from Ireland to avoid the often long lines of people awaiting immigration clearance at U.S. airports such as Kennedy in New York and Logan in Boston.