Some border crossing points are more interesting than others?

Border protection is a tricky business. On one hand every country wants to supervise to the highest level of security and confidence that its sovereignty is kept, its society is protected (immigration), its policies maintained and executed, its laws are in power (Criminal, Anti-Terrorism and more), and its financial interests are met via customs regulations and monitoring and smuggling prevention (In & Out – human trafficking, wildlife, national assets and treasures, etc.). It is tricky because it involves some-to-many stakeholders, most works for the crown, but some stake holders are public or even private operators, and we all rely on multi supplier chains with their imbedded possible gaps and risk on influencing the reliability of systems.

On the other hand – we are in need to supply best service for users and clients, and hopefully that the travel experience and ambience will be inviting, instead of intimidating…

The headache includes physical systems over ride, or even digital involvement. Criminal organization are targeting border security. Including pedestrian int’l crossings or commercial motorized activity, and look for cyber jeopardy of IT/OT systems. To gain access in a border they invest accordingly, including recruiting or manipulating employees working in those sites and junctions. If it wasn’t complicated so far, lets add some more spice to that by bringing some examples for international border crossings facilities that share different states and jurisdictions.

When we travel through international border crossing facilities, usually we are accustomed to departing a terminal in an origin state and landing/docking/arriving at another terminal controlled and operated by the destination’s jurisdiction. You leave one country to end in another – this is the common practice, globally. But, there are some unique exceptions to the ‘standard model’, that proves that border intersections can work in cooperation, keeping each country’s border secured and autonomous, and even with some economic advantages.

The most prominent example lies at the triangle of borders between Switzerland / France / and Germany – “EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg” (BSL). The exact geo-location is on France’s soil north to Saint Louis commune that borders at 3km from the airport with Swiss town of Basel. The airport sits a mere 2.5km distant from the Rhine River that marks the border with Germany, just in the heart of Europe.

The location serves travelers from and to these three states’ neighboring provinces, in which the major cities are represented in EoroAirport’s name Basel (SC) – Mulhouse (FR) – Freiburg (DE).

It was inaugurated on May 1946, a year after WW2 ended in Europe, as a joint venture between France (providing land) and Switzerland (to build runways & terminal). During previous century 50’s, a Swiss customs-free 2.5km road was constructed to link the city of Basel directly (as a ‘corridor’) to signify its shared jurisdiction (supported by later 1949’s bilateral treaty signage). In 1987 the ‘triumvirate’ brand was completed when Germany was added with some airport management responsibilities (due to being a significant market share of travelers).

Taking into consideration that a passenger can buy air ticket from origin airport to either BSL or MLH or EAP destinations, but will land eventually in the same EuroAirport – is tricky enough (including fare differences, multi-lingual service providers, and even different labor laws governance implications )… but there are some more operational coordination that influences the travel experience.

Although the airport lies entirely on French territory, the airport is actually split to 2 sections, where Switzerland enjoys some extraterritorial rights (set up in the special bilateral treaty which makes Euroairport, to many affects and purposes, a Swiss airport as well as a French one) . These allow Swiss rules customs, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and policing within the Swiss part while French laws apply on the rest of the airport, introducing unique authorization to French policing to perform random checks in the Swiss part as well.

The airside of the airport is arrange to accommodate Schengen traffic as well as other activity. French & Swiss Immigration officers are deployed ‘shoulder to shoulder’ to service non-Schengen visitors according to their due destination (the responsibility of passengers is to approach the correct border control agent in differing uniforms, according to their granted entry visa to EU or SC) . With dual customs checkpoints to ensure relevant national regulations, and with French police in overall responsibility for the airport’s security, assisted by the airport’s civilian aviation security team.

Preforming aviation and/or border security, immigration supervision and customs regime in multi-national facility is a challenging than usual. We all want to control all aspects that constitutes homeland security (HLS) in our domain, and here we see an example of need to adopted and share while keeping national interest. In order to achieve this, a delicate balance should be kept amongst the Board of Directors or Executive Committee (or any other form of directorate) to create exactable ‘check & balances’ mechanism, in which every stakeholder gain responsibilities, and periodical rotation are performed, so leadership and control are shared (hopefully) equal . In BSL case it is eight French Directors and eight Swiss, and since the 1980’S the German authorities have also been represented at some of the airport’s governance organs – represented by nine members of Tripartite Consultative Committee (Beirat), with an advisory board and more nearby cantons and communities representatives.

This tripoint facility proves it can be done. Achieve modern security and border and customs controls and supervisions, while allowing economically prosperity and travel experience, to just shy over 10 million customers in 2022.

Not that far from there, Geneva Airport (GVA) is also interesting case study. It lies almost completely on Swiss soil, yet, the runway actually “invades” France’s borderline. This dilemma was sorted out by another international treaty between the two nation-states (from 1960’s), agreeing on territorial equal land-swap, while granting France a sector in the airport. A designated road allows direct access to French nationals to go domestic (pier F) without “entering” Swiss territory or customs at all. French customs officers are deployed in the airport with the Swiss, to ensure no breech of EU regulations, while security is the solely Swiss by nature.

Yet, not all potential innovative cooperation to join forces necessarily works. In Gibraltar Int’l Airport (GIB), the plan to have Spain’s terminal sided to the local British one did not come through eventually. Later, it became even more complex with UK brexiting the EU. Achieving airspace agreements to include joint operations, settle border and customs requirements and related security supervision necessary between Gibraltar/UK/Spain/EU regulations is yet to be seen.

In Israel, after signing the peace treaty with Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1994, there was a plan to develop a joint modern international airport to replace Eilat’s (IL) and Aqaba (AQJ) airports which lie some 5km apart with a border line dividing. Arguable political and security constrains led the Israeli side to build a new R&R Int’l Ramon Airport (ETM) a few kilometers north. A miss, no doubt for collaboration efforts.

Looking at other continents we can identify a great example on US southern border in San-Diego (TJX), where Cross Border Xpress (CBX) elevated bridge offers a walk across the border to passengers processed through Mexican customs and immigration check points, and then to check-in and pre-boarding security. Passengers arriving from international flights to TIJ can cross to US soil with passports and proper I-94 / Visa, and will go through Customs & Border (CBP) scrutiny processes. Each country is responsible for security aspects in its border side of the connected terminal.

Going north, on the US/Canada border some airfields are actually located on/cross the official line of the 49th parallel. Operating these small facilities (some unpaved or gravel runway) evidently considered as port of entry with applicable formalities and even considered international, accessible from to states and offering some customs services. Between them we can name: Washington’s Avey Field, Montana’s Del Bonita/Whetstone International Airport, Coronach/Scobey Border Station Airport, Coutts/Ross International Airport, North Dakota’s International Peace Garden Airport, and Minnesota’s Piney-Pinecreek Border Airport.

In Europe, the Schengen treaty, trains running between different member countries to ride without actual stop for passport inspection, as I experienced personally few weeks ago, when the voice announcements for next station has changed mentioning that we crossed from Germany to Swiss territory. So the train operates as agreed joint jurisdiction platform.

To summarize, Border security is challenged by many threats scenarios and consists of several defense measures that are in need of tight coordination. Usually, in order to coordinate such efforts, common national laws, regulations, and even social aspects like same language, values, mentality, and national pride. Here I brought some unique case studies of different models of collaboration and coordination between states working together for same mission.

By Roni Tidhar, Head of Cyber Security & Int’l Consulting Services, IAA’s {Israel Airports Authority)