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U.S. customs pre-clearance one step closer for many Canadians

This is welcome news for Canadian travellers.

U.S. President Barack Obama today signed a bill authorizing pre-clearance of U.S. customs (never a fun event) at both Toronto’s Billy Bishop (Toronto Islands) Airport and at Quebec City’s Jean Lesage Airport.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and airport authorities in both Toronto and Quebec had been pushing for the idea for some time.

Currently, passengers flying to the U.S. from Toronto Pearson, Montreal Dorval/Trudeau, Vancouver and other major airports can clear U.S. customs while still on Canadian soil. Lines are usually better (albeit often still too long), and it’s a faster and simpler process than waiting in line at a U.S. facility.

Toronto's Billy Bishop AIrport.

Toronto’s Billy Bishop AIrport.

This benefit hasn’t been available at Toronto’s Island/Billy Bishop Airport or at Quebec City’s Lesage Airport. But Obama’s signature will change all of that.

With the new preclearance agreement between Canada and the U.S. now ratified by the U.S. president, next steps include ratification of the agreement by Canada and working out the specific costs and operating environment at Billy Bishop Airport. It is anticipated once a Terms of Operations Agreement is entered into between U.S. CBP and PortsToronto, it will take about one year to open the U.S. Preclearance Facility, Billy Bishop officials said.

Construction plans to upgrade the passenger terminal at Billy Bishop Airport announced in October include a preclearance facility.

“PortsToronto and partners at the airport have been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and teams at Transport Canada, Public Safety and International Trade to establish U.S. Preclearance at the airport and we are very pleased that the bill has been signed into law,” said Geoffrey Wilson, CEO PortsToronto, the owner and operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. “U.S. Preclearance will provide easier access to the U.S. for our passengers and, as such, is important as a means of further enhancing the customer service experience at our airport. We look forward to engaging with Canadian officials to continue discussions related to implementing a U.S. Customs Preclearance facility at Billy Bishop Airport and realizing the opportunities that exist in the areas of efficiency, customer service, trade relations and security.”

As the sixth busiest Canadian airport servicing the U.S., Billy Bishop Airport is a critical gateway that will benefit from U.S. preclearance, officials said in a release. Currently, more than 400,000 passengers travel to the U.S. each year from Billy Bishop Airport. U.S. Preclearance also presents the ability to service U.S. markets more broadly and creates opportunity to add new markets within the existing slot structure and allocation at Billy Bishop Airport.

The same should stand for Quebec City.

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