Several U.S. pilots and politicians have criticized the approval of a new U.S. Customs pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi that allows trusted travelers to bypass the typically long lines in order to board their flights earlier and more easily.
Critics argue that the new facility benefits only Etihad Airlines, the sole carrier of direct flights between Abu Dhabi and the United States. Others have spoken out against the facility’s creation due to the use of taxpayer money involved.
The U.S. government has long had a friendly relationship with the United Arab Emirates, largely due to economic interest. Israel, of course, is one of the U.S.’s major allies. The UAE, however, like 33 other states around the world, does not recognize Israel’s existence.
Etihad Airlines currently has a variety strict of anti-Israeli policies in place. The company, which is government-owned, currently uses a travel map that neglects to depict Israel, despite displaying all of the surrounding Middle Eastern countries. Etihad also denies Israeli passengers from using its service, going as far as to train its employees to spot Israeli travelers, the New York Post reports.
Capt. Mark Richardson, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association President, explained his skepticism regarding the facility's taxypayer funding to the USA Today.
“We are more than willing to compete against any airline in the world, including state-sponsored Middle East entities. However, Middle East entities that already enjoy generous state sponsorship should not receive additional government support from the U.S. taxpayer,” Richardson said.
Several U.S. Congressmen have voiced the opinion that the facility was created with third-party economic interests rather than national interests, and they warned against the future creation of such facilities. It remains to be seen whether or not the facility is efficient enough to warrant the associated taxpayer cost, which has a price tag of about $425,000 annually, taken from the US Department of Homeland Security’s budget.
Despite neglecting a portion of its nearby population, Etihad Airways has been a majorly successful airline. According to ABC News, the company reached its highest level of annual profit last year with $62 million in earnings. Although Etihad is not a member of the Oneworld Alliance, it does have a partnership with U.S.-based American Airlines.