New extended hours for customs and border services at three regional airports will save airlines money and boost the potential for new business, say Atlantic Canada airport staff.

The Canada Border Services Agency has increased customs services from eight to 16 hours (8 a.m. until midnight) at Charlottetown, Fredericton and Greater Moncton airports.

Rob Robichaud, CEO of the Greater Moncton airport, said Wednesday the new service will save Continental Airlines about $200,000 a year it had been paying for the after-hours service and will be a marketing tool for the airport.

“This allows us to market the airport up until midnight,” said Mr. Robichaud, who has been working nearly seven years to get the customs service extended. “Most passenger flights terminate before midnight or shortly after, and hopefully we will be able to increase trans-border and international service, not only into Moncton but into the province.”

Mr. Robichaud said Moncton would like to have 24-hour, seven-day availability of customs and border services. He is not talking about having customs officials on duty 24/7 but hopes for “some flexibility in those 16 hours in terms of moving shifts around to cover when we really need the service on a 24-hour basis.”

Mr. Robichaud said he also expects there will be a need for customs service to clear cargo flights coming in.

“But for now we are pleased with what we have,” he said.

Monette Connaughton, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airport Association, which represents 13 regional airports, said the extended hours are “a great first step; however, there are still many discrepancies with (border) service delivery at airports throughout Atlantic Canada.”

Some airports enjoy 24/7 services at no cost; others have restricted levels of service with full cost recovery after scheduled hours; and still others have no scheduled service and pay full costs at all times.

“Customs service is a federal responsibility and any cost is a burden to the respective airport,” Ms. Connaughton said. “For example, in 2007 the Deer Lake Regional Airport paid $120,000 in service fees, as they have no scheduled service. Airlines servicing St. John’s International Airport paid $150,000 for services outside the scheduled hours. These costs are undoubtedly passed on to the traveller.”

The association has long contended that customs services should be provided at no cost and all airports should be given an equal opportunity for the services to meet demand regardless of location, Ms. Connaughton said.

“Airports facilitate significant economic activity, and we look forward to working with (border services) in order to provide the necessary resources to allow airport communities and the regions they serve to grow and prosper,” she said.