Salt Lake City's elite private pilots and their passengers are still a little miffed.
Despite an increase in U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers (from four to 11) at Salt Lake City International Airport, private jets are still not allowed to clear customs in Utah's capital during late night/early morning hours. Those late-arriving flights -- coming in from other countries -- have to touch down in some other city that does have 24-hour service, clear customs and then continue on to Salt Lake City.
Clearing customs elsewhere means jet owners pay an extra $4,000 to $5,000 in fuel costs. Utah's air industry advocates say the system can cause businesses executives -- used to flying anywhere in the world at odd hours -- to not want to do business in Salt Lake City.
The issue hit the Utah Air Travel Commission recently.
John Glaittli, the port director for customs in Salt Lake, said Jan. 8 customs began servicing the airport from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- four hours longer than before. Glaittli said only about 12 to 18 private flights last year sought to come into the airport at times when customs service wasn't available.
"For 12 to 18 flights out of 365 days a year it doesn't make sense to staff it," Glaittli said. Customs will try to accommodate as much traffic as possible, but the "middle of the night stuff is going to be an issue."
UATC Chair Meg Holbrook called customs' new service "very accommodating," but others on the commission were less enthusiastic.
"As mildly as I can I'm going to ask you to be aggressive in accommodating that (late-night) traffic as possible," commission member Keith Christensen said. "We'd love to see that business here rather than in Colorado or Nevada."
Bill Haberstock, who runs the private jet fueling service Million Air, says Salt Lake City should have on-demand customs service. His clients would even be willing to pay for it. They would shell out as much as $400 or $500 to clear customs in Salt Lake City, he said.
But while some complained, others rushed to praise customs officials who they say have bent over backward to accommodate Salt Lake City's international air travel.
"We have great service for the demand that we have and for them to work with us in the way that they have in terms of expanding their staff and expanding their hours given the fact that they are handling the numbers they have is great," Department of Airports spokeswoman Barbara Gann said. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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The state's largest airport also ranked No. 2 in on-time departures, just .06 percent behind No. 1 Houston.
The FAA has reiterated its stance that the cost of additional radar outweighs the benefits.
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"It is an airline we have had continuing discussions with. We've been receiving indications that there may be a time they are interested in coming here."