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Texas airport to begin dual customs operation with Mexico

By Adina Solomon

Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico are tied together.

The Texas town of 180,000 people lies on the U.S.-Mexico border, sharing a heritage with its city across the way.

“These two communities have grown together for the last 400 years, so they’re united by family, education, business, culture, in all ways,” says Michael Jones, business development manager at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport.

Brownsville speaks Spanish; Matamoros speaks English.

And the Texas airport receives cargo from both sides of the border.

A dual customs hangar between Mexico and the U.S. not only makes sense for a town so entwined with its neighbor – it has been done before.

The airport opened in 1929 when American aviator Charles Lindbergh landed in Brownsville from Mexico City, establishing the first international airmail service. Fellow aviator Amelia Earhart, along with 20,000 attendees, welcomed Lindbergh to the airport.

Beginning in 1929, the airport had a dual customs hangar with Mexico, but in the 1950s, the Mexican government put a stop to it.

The airport has worked hard to bring dual customs back ever since 2005, Jones says.

Michael Jones, business development manager at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport

“As trade grew here and all of this cargo went back and forth, back and forth, it became obvious to a lot of people that it’s time to do this again,” he says.

The airport handled about 1,400 tonnes of cargo in 2012, he says. Mexico is a major supplier for the automobile and aerospace industries, so that makes up a lot of the airport’s freight.

Detroit, known as the automobile capital of the world, is a top destination for cargo going through Brownsville.

It all leads back to the dual customs hangar. The 20,000-square-foot, US$2.4-million hangar is now under construction and will open in October, Jones says.

It is the only dual customs hangar at a U.S. airport.

Once Mexican Customs and U.S. Customs process cargo in this hangar, it becomes domestic and is free to be delivered anywhere in the U.S. or Mexico.

“At any other [U.S.] airport, you would have to go to one of the six designated airports in Mexico and wait there to clear customs, and that could be a process of two days or three days or a week,” Jones says. “If it clears dual customs here, it can be delivered. It’s finished.”

Jones says the time saved is the main benefit of having both countries’ customs operations under one roof.

“If you save a day or two days, this makes a huge difference,” he says. “That’s the tremendous advantage to dual customs.”

Getting this hangar required years of studies, permissions, navigating bureaucratic red tape and a treaty between the two countries. Now that these tasks have been done, Jones says all that’s left is the relatively easy part: building the hangar.

The hangar will create jobs and bring more money into the region, he says.

“This is a great time for Brownsville,” Jones says.

He estimates that in the first year of operation for the hangar, Brownsville will see the amount of cargo double – if not more. The amount of freight will continue to grow from there as more people send their cargo to the airport on the Mexican-U.S. border.

“It’s already cleared customs. There’s no more hoops, permissions or anything like that. It’s just ready to go. To the person who’s shipping and receiving that cargo, time is money,” Jones says. “It will grow as word of the availability of this service spreads.”