By Rich Pollack
A new U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility will soon be opening its doors at the Boca Raton Airport — just not as soon as expected.
Members of the Boca Raton Airport Authority hoped to see the facility working this month, but issues with weather and personnel caused unanticipated delays.
Now, airport officials hope to have the 47,000-square-foot center up and running in October.
One reason for the delays, airport Executive Director Clara Bennett said, was turnover in contractor West Construction’s field supervisors during the construction process.
“We now have a good project manager in place who is trying to make up lost time and minimize delay,” Bennett said.
Airport tenants, including owners of corporate jets and a company that offers private charters, are eager to see the center open, but “most are just glad to see the work being done and they’re happy knowing that the center is coming,” she said.
The new $4.3 million station will make it easier for air passengers coming from outside the country to clear Customs.
Now, planes coming from outside the country planning to land at the Boca Raton Airport must first stop at an airport with a Customs facility, such as Palm Beach International Airport or Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
Bennett says the new Boca Raton center will enhance convenience for air travelers coming in from overseas, improve safety and decrease fuel costs because it will eliminate an additional landing and takeoff.
The benefits, however, will come at a cost to those using the center, which will be open Thursday through Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., considered the busiest times for international travelers at the airport.
While Customs centers at Palm Beach International and Fort Lauderdale Executive airports are funded by taxpayers with no costs to arriving travelers, Boca Raton Airport’s center will be a user-fee center, with travelers paying for the service.
The Airport Authority will pay the Customs and Border Protection Service to operate the center and will cover a variety of costs, including the salaries of assigned officers.
To recoup the estimated annual operational costs of $244,000 for the first year and about $205,000 every year afterward, the airport developed a fee structure that will enable it to pay for the service in approximately five to six years.
“Our ultimate goal is to break even,” said airport Deputy Director Scott Kohut.
Under the proposed schedule, propeller planes will pay anywhere from $50 to $150 per aircraft, depending on the type of engine and the number of passengers.
For jets, the range is anywhere from $225 to $425, based on the aircraft’s weight.
Bennett thinks many users will be more than happy to pay to use the facility because of its convenient location and likely reduced wait times compared to other facilities.
To help pilots and aircraft owners see the advantages firsthand, one authority member has proposed offering a 50 percent discount at the station for the first three months.
“Once they use it, they may want to be here more often,” board member Jack Fox said during a recent Airport Authority meeting.
Bennett said that’s a good idea, but she is checking to make sure there are no federal or state regulations prohibiting the discount.