COVID-19 poses challenges to Aviation
ALPA wants FAA to mandate CDC standards
FAA issues SAFO with current CDC recommendations
FAA demurs for lack of jurisdiction
Airlines a better solution?
The Coronavirus scourge has challenged all nations at an unequaled level in history. The medical complexity of COVID-19 is so daunting that no cures or inoculations have been discovered. The WHO and our CDC have defined procedures to limit the spread of protein which spreads this horrendous disease, even those guidelines have been updated since the pandemic began.
Aviation is one of the paths for the spread of viruses and the professionals, who are involved in flight, may also be exposed to COVID-19. Clearly, there is a need for protecting pilots, flight attendants, passenger service agents, baggage handlers, mechanics, etc.
ALPA President Joe DePete has written to the Secretary of Transportation and the FAA Administrator demanding that they impose “a specific FAA order, directive, or regulatory requirement expressly mandating that airlines follow CDC guidance regarding the notification of flight crews and other airline employees exposed to individuals who are confirmed positive for COVID-19, as well as rigorous disinfectant protocols for cleaning aircraft, simulators, and surrounding areas.”
A second missive from ALPA pointed to
Research from ALPA pilot leaders and staff, supported by reports provided by our pilots on the frontlines, makes it alarmingly clear that some U.S. airlines are applying the CDC’s recommendations inconsistently while others aren’t abiding by them at all. This must stop. The FAA must exercise its authority and act immediately to compel the airlines to comply with these guidelines.
. Here is the Administrator Dickson’s response to ALPA:
As you point out, the FAA has statutory authority and responsibility to promote the safe operation of civil aircraft. Aviation safety is our most important priority. While the FAA remains steadfast in its focus on safety of flight, we are not a public health agency. We must look to other U.S. Government agencies for guidance on public and occupational health. As COVID-19 emerged as a growing threat, we knew that the entire commercial air transportation industry would need additional guidance. We worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — the U.S. Government public health authority — to publish the first set of crewmember health guidance on February 2, 2020, followed by subsequent updates and information as we learned more about the virus and the situation evolved. As new CDC guidance was issued, we acted swiftly to make sure it reached you and the rest of the aviation industry.
As you know, employee and workplace health are the responsibility of employers. The FAA will continue to focus on the safety of the National Airspace System and the needs of the entire community, including your members. We will continue to ensure that the CDC health guidance provides safeguards for crewmember health and make clear that following these safeguards can remove unnecessary distractions from the crewmember workplace. As you focus resources and energy on addressing crew complaints with employers, we will continue to emphasize our expectation of full air carrier compliance with the public health recommendations specific to our industry.
We take seriously any allegations of airline failure to adhere to crewmember health guidance; however, airlines are responsible for the occupational health of their workforce. The FAA will engage the airlines on the issues you have identified, to express our concern, explore possibilities for making the guidance more effective, and address any misunderstanding of how to apply the guidance. The FAA will reinforce the importance of airlines heeding CDC guidance and clarify those expectations if needed. We also will determine if additional actions are necessary or feasible to motivate compliance.
This issue has been posed here recently. The commentary on the union’s proposal was positive; questions about why the Administrator had not acted; the conclusion made was that the most expeditious action would be immediate airline commitment by the airlines.
The FAA, as explained in the below article, has decided that it is not the appropriate authority to issue directives for COVID-19 virus actions by the airlines.
SAFO Cancels And Replaces SAFO 20003
The FAA is frantically trying to keep up with all the issues forced upon it by the global pandemic.
A recent SAFO was published to provide updated interim occupational health and safety guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for air carriers and crewmembers regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The CDC and FAA are providing this additional occupational health and safety guidance for air carriers and their crews to reduce crewmembers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 and decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on board aircraft and through air travel.
The FAA has recommended the following…
The FAA and CDC recommend and expect that all U.S.-based air carriers and crewmembers, all non-U.S.-based air carriers operating flights with a U.S. nexus, and all non-U.S.-based crewmembers on flights with a U.S. nexus implement and use their company-developed COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures in conjunction with the FAA and CDC occupational health and safety guidance in the attached appendix regarding practices for limiting the spread of COVID-19.
The FAA and CDC will update or supplement this SAFO as more information becomes available. Air carriers and crewmembers should also review and incorporate into their COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures, the CDC guidance, “Updated Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” on the CDC website at: www.cdc.gov/quarantine/air/managing-sick-travelers/ncov-airlines.html
CDC has additionally provided fact sheets for the transportation industry, available at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html
As frustrating as the FAA’s position may appear, SAFO 20009 recites the CDC’s most recent recommendation
On March 30, 2020
CDC and the Federal Aviation Administration have jointly provided interim health guidance for air carriers and crewspdf iconexternal icon SAFO 20003
Actually, since this recommendation, the FAA upgraded its SAFO from the #20003 issuance to #20009 version. Specifically the FAA emphasized these measures, which were obtained from CDC:
Further, to slow the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends the use of cloth face coverings while in public places and when social distancing is not practicable. Wearing face coverings helps people, who may have COVID-19 and not know it, avoid transmitting the virus to others. When considering this CDC guidance, air carriers and crewmembers should be mindful of the regulations regarding the use of oxygen masks where the operation requires an oxygen mask to be rapidly placed on the face, properly secured, sealed, and supplying oxygen upon demand. Air carriers should complete a safety risk assessment and provide guidance to their crewmembers on procedures for the use of face coverings as they may affect the donning of oxygen masks.
Recommended Action: The FAA and CDC recommend and expect that all U.S.-based air carriers and crewmembers…implement and use their company-developed COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures in conjunction with the FAA and CDC occupational health and safety guidance in the attached appendix regarding practices for limiting the spread of COVID-19. The FAA and CDC will update or supplement this SAFO as more information becomes available. Air carriers and crewmembers should also review and incorporate into their COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures, the CDC guidance, “Updated Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” on the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/air/managing-sick-travelers/ncov-airlines.html
If the FAA took jurisdiction of enforcing the COVID-19 protections, it has neither the technical competence to investigate nor the personnel to effectively monitor the airlines’ compliance. The airlines already have a duty to protect their employees and the CDC/FAA recommendations set what should be done. The carriers’ safety and health organizations are well positioned to take affirmative steps to assure the pilots, flight attendants, etc. are being adequately protected.
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