U.S. Senator Mark Begich today challenged Jeh Johnson, the President's nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), on a decision by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to deny flights between Dawson City and Fairbanks next summer. This decision would potentially have significant ramifications for the economy of Fairbanks and Alaska as a whole.
Sen. Begich is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which held a hearing today to consider Johnson's nomination and is scheduled to vote on whether to send Mr. Johnson's nomination to the full Senate on November 20.
"Denying these flights between Dawson City and Fairbanks could prevent 19,000 visitors a year to Alaska and doesn't make business sense or fiscal sense," said Begich. "It is entirely impractical to route these flights through Anchorage. I just don't think CBP understands the logistics of this and how large Alaska is. Everyone puts Alaska in a little box off the coast of California but they forget it's one-fifth the size of the entire Lower 48."
Instead of allowing the flights in and out of Fairbanks International Airport (FAI), CBP in its denial letter suggested processing visitors at Anchorage International Airport before allowing them to travel to Fairbanks and Denali National Park. Sen. Begich noted this suggestion would roughly double the air miles for visitors, given Alaska's vast geography.
In questioning Mr. Johnson, Sen. Begich called CBP's decision a "classic bureaucratic response" that failed to recognize the economic losses Alaska could face as a result. He also challenged CBP's logic by highlighting estimates that CBP might actually collect more money in fees by allowing the flights than it would spend on the additional staffing costs at FAI to accommodate them. Johnson agreed to look into the issue should he be confirmed.
Sen. Begich sent the attached letter to CBP last week in support of an appeal submitted by Air North.