Customs and Border Protection to Open Fourth Northern Border Air Branch

Grand Forks, N.D. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection will officially open the North Dakota Air Branch tomorrow at Grand Forks International Airport. As part of a northern border security strategy, this is the forth of five planned new facilities to augment CBP’s northern border capabilities with air and marine law enforcement, surveillance and airspace security.

“With the opening of this air branch in North Dakota, CBP takes another step toward the consolidation and modernization of the largest civilian law enforcement air force in the world,” said Jayson Ahern CBP deputy commissioner. “I commend all those who worked so hard to make this Air Branch operational and the air interdiction agents and mission support personnel based here to secure America’s northern border.”

At full capacity, the Air Branch will consist of up to 50 air interdiction agents (pilots), air enforcement agents and mission support personnel. Air Branch assets will include: two UH-60 Blackhawk interdiction and apprehension helicopters, two EC-120 light observation helicopters, one AS 350B3 helicopter, two Cessna 206 surveillance and training aircraft, two Cessna 550 Citation II intercept aircraft, one Pilatus PC-12 surveillance and tracking aircraft, and Predator B unmanned aircraft systems providing high altitude detection and surveillance support capabilities. The Air Branch will support border security operations and conduct regular mission patrols and is equipped for rapid incident response.

Since 1956, the Border Patrol has maintained a small air detachment in North Dakota. In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security began the creation of a Northern Border Air Wing with the strong support from the U.S. Congress. This air wing was to have five air and marine branches in the northern border with the purpose of replicating on the U.S.-Canadian border the successful air and marine border security operations built over decades on the Southern Border.

In 2005, when CBP integrated all its air and marine assets under the CBP Office of Air and Marine, the site of the two-aircraft detachment in North Dakota was selected as the location for the expanded Air Branch.

“We’re excited about the new Customs and Border Protection Air Branch located in Grand Forks,” North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said. “It brings both manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as high-tech surveillance equipment, to support the border mission in coordination with the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which will provide launch and recovery for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. We have supported, and will continue to support, this important mission with state resources as a part of our effort to build Grand Forks as a national center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”

“Strengthening our northern border and boosting our nation’s security is one of my top priorities,” Sen. Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.) said. “The tremendous work being done by the men and women at the Grand Forks Air Branch is vital to securing the northern border, adding another layer of security to the nation.”

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, (D-N.D.), who could not attend the event, expressed his support stating “The Northern Border Air Branch at Grand Forks will be an important component of our effort to strengthen security at our border with Canada. I’ve long said that it’s important that we have more resources to control our northern border, and this air branch is an important step in that direction.”

As part of the DHS Northern Border Air Wing, CBP opened in 2004 the first two Air and Marine Branches at Bellingham, Wash. and Plattsburg, N.Y. The third branch was opened in 2006 in Great Falls, Mont. The fifth branch will be located in Detroit and is scheduled to open in spring 2008. Three older branches that are part of the air wing are in Spokane, Wash., Buffalo, N.Y. and Houlton, Maine.

The Air Branch expands capabilities across the North Dakota and Minnesota border with Canada. The expansion plays an important role in DHS efforts, in coordination with federal, state, local and Canadian law enforcement authorities, to dismantle human and narcotics smuggling networks.

“It is great to be back home.” said the CBP facility Director of Air Operations Mark Johnson, a Stanley, N.D. native. “I and all the employees of the North Dakota Air Branch are very excited to be here and to bring part of the largest law enforcement air force in the world to the North-Central Plains border region.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of the nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.

Contacts For This News Release no address available at this time Juan Munoz-Torres CBP Office of Air and Marine Phone: (202) 359-2641 Fax: (202) 344-1393 CBP Headquarters Office of Public Affairs 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. Room 3.4A Washington, DC 20229 Phone: (202) 344-1770 or (800) 826-1471 Fax: (202) 344-1393