Passport rule for air travel in effect Tuesday; further requirements trouble Canadian Minister and trucking groups

| 1/23/2007

Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 23, air travelers who are citizens from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Bermuda will be required to present a passport before entering the U.S. from any part of the Western Hemisphere.

The new flight requirements are part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's and the Department of State's two-pronged Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI.

The initiative may require land travelers into the United States to have a passport as early as Jan.1 - which would usher in a new series of hurdles for truck drivers and others who briefly cross northern and southern borders before re-entering the U.S.

Truckers who frequently enter the U.S. from Canadian and Mexican borders may be able to use the government's Free and Secure Trade, or FAST, program, said Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. FAST is aimed at streamlining inspections of commercial shipping by electronically sending information to U.S. customs officials.

According to The Associated Press, Stockwell Day, Canada's Minister of Safety, said he's concerned that more strict requirements could affect economics and slow travel through borders between the two nations.

"Canada's New Government has been, and remains, concerned about the potential impact of WHTI on the economies and border communities of both countries," Day wrote in a news release last fall and reiterated last week after meeting with U.S. Congressional leaders.

Passport requirements for land travel is likely to affect more American truckers that cross the border into Canada and have to re-enter the United States than other businesses, said Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada.

Truckers expect identification requirements when they enter different countries, but the combination of transportation worker identification credentials, FAST, and passports are costly, repetitive and cumbersome, Ritchie said.

In March the U.S. government plans to begin enrolling drivers in its Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, program, which uses cards to incorporate biometric data, criminal background checks and threat assessment procedures for workers and drivers that enter ports.

"What we want is the government to pick a card, any card," Ritchie said. "This alphabet soup for FAST card, TWIC card - once you have one background check it should be taken care of."

OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig agreed, adding that the multiple requirements amount to a "layering" of costs.

Craig said that the association, however, also has concerns about whether technology such as the proposed PASS card could safely replace driver's licenses and other documents currently accepted at U.S. borders.

The PASS card has been proposed to replace passports for travel only in the western hemisphere, and would use a radio frequency identification, or RFID, chip that would allow personal information to be accessed illegally.

"We have concerns in that this type of technology can be read by other folks who happen to be savvy enough to get their hands on a reader or could build the reader themselves," Craig said. "We have concerns that there is a lot of personal information on these chips."

- By Charlie Morasch, staff writer