Passengers using Dublin Airport's Terminal 2 will soon be able to pre-clear all US security checks before departure.
From early next year, all passengers flying to the United States from the new terminal will no longer have to undergo customs, immigration or clearance checks on arrival in America, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said yesterday, after meeting with US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at Dublin Airport.
Passengers from Terminal 2 will be treated as if their flight had originated at a US domestic airport.
Ireland is the only country in Europe to offer the facility, allowing passengers on US-bound flights to clear all customs, immigration, agriculture and security checks before departing from airports here.
Shannon Airport introduced the US Customs and Border Protection facilities earlier this year.
The pre-clearance in Terminal 2 and Shannon is the same process that a passenger would normally undergo upon arrival at a US airport.
The airports here had to meet the same security criteria as their American counterparts.
In the new operation at Terminal 2, Homeland Security will oversee the arrangements.
"Early next year, when this new pre-clearance facility here in Terminal 2 is opened, all US-bound passengers will benefit from uninterrupted passage through US airports on arrival, saving time and hassle," Mr Dempsey said.
Up until now, only US immigration clearance facilities were available at Dublin Airport.
Aer Lingus believes that the pre-clearance facilities will give Ireland a significant competitive edge over other hub airports in western Europe when it comes into effect in the first quarter of 2011.
Terminal 2 could boost its position as a transatlantic gateway and attract more commercial and corporate jet business.
Transatlantic airlines will be able to fly into less congested and less expensive domestic terminals on arrival at US airports.
This should lead to easier access to aircraft stands, thereby minimising the time between touchdown and passengers disembarking.
"In the competitive field of aviation, time means money for airline operators. This agreement could help airline operators save valuable time," Mr Dempsey said.
"Shannon Airport has operated full pre-clearance facilities for all US-bound passengers since March this year. Ireland is the only country outside of the Americas to offer this unique service."
Ms Napolitano spent almost an hour on the ground in Dublin while her aircraft was being refuelled. Details about her onwards journey were closely guarded last night.
During her tour of Terminal 2 with Mr Dempsey, Ms Napolitano viewed the new pre-clearance facilities. Mr Dempsey said her presence was "affirmation of the importance that the United States attaches to US pre-clearance from Ireland".
Ms Napolitano has recently overseen the controversial introduction of full-body scanners and pat-downs at US airports.
She insisted that this enhanced screening would continue into the "foreseeable future", despite complaints about the intrusiveness of the process.
When she oversaw the introduction of all pre-clearance services at Shannon, she said it underscored the commitment to protecting the safety and security of citizens, while streamlining legitimate travel and commerce between Ireland and the US.