DHS announced a change today to its Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) requirements for passengers and crew members traveling to the United States by air and sea, in response to requirements in Sec. 4012 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The Notice of Proposed Rule Making is available here, and a FAQ document is here.
The current rules require passenger manifests to be sent to CBP no later than 15 minutes after aircraft depart. This leads to instances of flights being diverted en route because DHS finds out that a suspicious passenger is on board after the plane takes off, as famously happened with the former Cat Stevens in 2004. The new rules would give airlines two options: (a) send a complete manifest at least sixty minutes prior to departure or (b) send individual APIS records to CBP on a streamed, real-time basis as passengers check in, but no later than 15 minutes prior to departure, using the APIS Quick Query (AQQ) system.
Overall, this is a positive change, and one that should improve the security and efficiency of the international aviation prescreening system. It might cause a bit of confusion at international airports in the early stages of implementation, but it will ultimately be less burdensome than the current reality of having to turn around or prematurely land flights when CBP gets a ‘hit’ after takeoff. And it likely reduces the risk of hijacking and ‘shoe bomber’-type attacks on international flights inbound to the U.S.