Budgetary constraints at U.S. Customs and Border Protection almost cost Fairbanks 18 winter flights from Japan and the estimated $4 million that the Japanese tourists pour into the local economy.
Customs and Border Protection, citing staffing shortfalls, had denied an application by Japan Airlines for landing rights at Fairbanks about two months ago.
It seems customs officers have to be flown from Anchorage to Fairbanks to meet each JAL flight.
But Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin intervened, asking Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for reconsideration, citing the economic impact that the lost JAL flights would have on Fairbanks.
The Department of Homeland Security agreed and reversed its decision two weeks ago.
The JAL winter charter program was started in 2004, when JAL flew three flights to Fairbanks.
This winter, JAL plans to operate 20 flights to Alaska, including 18 flights to Fairbanks, between Dec. 27 and March 21.
According to Fairbanks Airport officials, the JAL flights are typically full, averaging 350 passengers each.