June 17, 2008

Customs Moves into New Building at Columbia Airport

By Noelle Phillips, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Jun. 17--The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Columbia Metropolitan Airport no longer have to drive across a four-lane highway to do their jobs.

On Monday, they moved into a new office on airport property where they will clear private airplanes traveling across foreign borders and checking cargo trucked to Columbia from other ports.

For now, the officers still have to drive to meet planes at various hangars on airport grounds, but future plans call for airplanes to drive to the building and park so officers can check passengers and cargo, said Wayne Henson, Customs port director at the Columbia airport.

Columbia airport officials paved the way for the new building, Henson said, and the new facility will make his job much easier.

"We've put a lot of work into it," he said.

Columbia's popularity for customs inspections has been growing, said Mike Flack, the Columbia airport's executive director. Charter and other private flights with fewer than 65 passengers can clear customs in Columbia faster than at larger, busier airports, he said.

Last year, 255 aircraft and 1,866 passengers were processed through customs at the airport. And, 1,793 cargo shipments were inspected at the airport.

Most of the cargo arrives in the United States through shipping ports including Charleston. Shippers can put a bond on cargo going to Columbia, and those pieces can be sent to the airport's customs agents for inspections. It makes delivery quicker because those pieces skip long lines at the Charleston port, Henson said.

Customs agents have worked out of the Columbia airport for 24 years, Flack said.

"They've been a well-kept secret," he said.

Columbia's airport is one of five airports that serves as a port of entry, said Pam Zaresk, area port director for U.S. Customs.

"South Carolina has so much happening. And when you're the state capital, a lot of people are coming through here to do business," she said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.


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