T&I Democratic Leaders legislate COVID-19 lessons
FAA powers to mandate for respiratory diseases (only) codified
Mandates immediate Reports by flight/cabin crews
The aviation industry has survived another global crisis, but like OPEC (price increases, production reductions) 9/11, the Max 8 disasters, economic downfalls, etc., there are lessons that were learned. Chairmen DeFazio and Larsen (full committee and aviation subcommittee) have drafted a bill proposing studies and rules intended to be available for the next (hopefully never) pandemic. Having a five year old GAO report which recommended that such studies be completed, but never were, the Democratic leaders want to mandate a National Preparedness Plan with the same analyses by the same organizations.
“Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) led 15 of their colleagues on introduction of the Healthy Flights Act of 2021. This legislation would issue a set of commonsense, uniform requirements during pandemics to help keep passengers and airline and airport workers healthy by minimizing transmission of viruses through our aviation system. In addition, the Healthy Flights Act would help prepare U.S. aviation stakeholders for future pandemics and epidemics through the development of a national preparedness plan to define the aviation system’s response to outbreaks and by advancing scientific research.”
Original Co-Sponsors: Representatives Julia Brownley (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Kaiali’I (Kai) Kahele (D-HI), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Marie Newman (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Supporters of the bill include the following stakeholder groups: ▪ American Association of Airport Executives; ▪ Airports Council International; ▪ Air Line Pilots Association; ▪ Allied Pilots Association; ▪ Association of Flight Attendants; ▪ Association of Professional Flights Attendants; ▪ Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations; ▪ International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; ▪ International Brotherhood of Teamsters; ▪ Professional Aviation Safety Specialists;4▪ Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; and ▪ Transport Workers Union of America
The Committee summarizes Healthy Flights Act of 2021 as follows:
- Clarifies the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authority to impose any requirements on air travel necessary to protect the health and safety of airline workers and passengers during public health emergencies;
- Requires passengers to wear masks on board aircraft and within airports, and also requires issuance of masks and other protective equipment to airline employees and certain FAA employees (including air traffic controllers and aviation safety inspectors), during any public health emergency that is caused by a respiratory disease;
- Requires the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to develop a National Aviation Preparedness Plan to respond to epidemics or pandemics;
- Calls for a study on transmission of infectious diseases in airplane cabins;
- Creates an FAA Center of Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation to advise the FAA Administrator on infectious diseases and air travel; and
- Amends airline passenger briefing requirements to enumerate new federal guidelines during pandemics and subsequent penalties for non-compliance.
Drafting of legislation is an extremely difficult assignment. Those, who have earned the responsibility of putting pen to paper (digital electrons to a screen?) , are exceptional wordsmiths (below is an example of one of the best):
Some thoughts about the Healthy Flights Act of 2021:
- Too narrow?
The powers of this Act are triggered by a Presidential emergency declaration in response to A RESPIRATORY DISEASE. That’s a very specific predicate to the new powers granted. It must be remembered that, early in the COVID-19 crisis, these same Members and many of the bill’s supporters urged the FAA Administrator to issue this exact same mandate, but were rebuffed by an opinion that there was no such authority. Strict construction would interpret § 50202 narrowly and could conclude that non-respiratory crises would not fall within this carefully constructed section.
- Added Crewmember responsibilities- consequences and work
A statutory requirement that flight or cabin crews SHALL NOTIFY when a passenger violates the mask rules. This is an important function in deterring individuals from engaging in such behavior. The disembarkation of passengers is a crew-centric event—for safety reasons.
- Does § 50202(b) (2) overrule the disembarkation duties?
- The cabin or flight crews may not have access to a passenger’s name. Does this new duty imply that further research as to the name is required?
- What are the consequences if this required report is filed late or if no report is ever filed?
- Many times, flight or cabin crews are off duty at the end of a flight. Does this added work qualify for compensation? Could it cause a rest time and duty limit violation?
- Déjà vu all over again.
In 2015 the GAO, at the behest of Congress, issued its Air Travel and Communicable Diseases: Comprehensive Federal Plan Needed for U.S. Aviation System’s Preparedness and recommended:
GAO recommends that DOT work with relevant stakeholders, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan for communicable diseases. DOT agrees a plan is needed, but suggests public health agencies lead the effort. GAO continues to believe the recommendation is correctly directed to DOT, as discussed in this report.
The provisions of §50206 add a lot of specifics and sets a deadline for issuance of a Plan of one year from enactment. [Congressional timelines appear to bear no correlation with the magnitude and complexity of the assignment.] Lots of stakeholders must be involved; several Secretaries [more accurately their staffs] will be at the table, too. Debates over solutions and jurisdictions are never easily resolved, largely due to institutional imperative. Those observations are likely to consume 364 days; however, the range of possible communicable disease outbreaks of the future approaches infinity.
- National Center for Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation –
This is where the Plan should be formulated—experts focused on the health issue, knowledgeable about airline operations and capable of finding outside-of-the-box solutions.
The new requirements would be incorporated into pre-flight announcements
April 22, 2021 at 4:48 p.m. EDT
Democratic leaders on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced legislation Thursday that would require the transportation secretary to develop an aviation-sector plan for managing disease outbreaks.
The Healthy Flights Act of 2021 — introduced by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), the committee’s chairman; and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the aviation subcommittee chairman — also makes clear that the Federal Aviation Administration has the authority to impose requirements to protect passengers and airline workers during public health emergencies. In addition, it would require that people wear masks on airplanes and in airports, and that airline employees and some FAA personnel be given personal protective equipment during public health emergencies linked to respiratory diseases.
The new requirements would be incorporated into preflight announcements, according to the legislation.
In a statement, DeFazio said the bill would provide “clear, consistent rules and guidelines that give flight and cabin crew the authority they need to keep passengers safe.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed serious flaws in the federal government’s preparedness to keep airline and airport workers and travelers safe amid a public health emergency,” he said. “And with tens of millions of people yet to be vaccinated, Congress still can and must do more to protect those on the frontlines of our aviation system from future pandemics like COVID-19.”
DeFazio also called on the Biden administration to extend a transportation mask mandate that is to expire next month.
During much of the coronavirus pandemic, the FAA resisted calls by lawmakers to require masks on planes and in airports, saying it viewed its role as a regulatory agency overseeing safety, not health. The FAA’s reluctance to act meant individual airlines and airports were left to establish their own mask policies. However, on his first day in office, President Biden signed an order requiring masks on planes, buses and trains and at airports.
DeFazio and Larsen have said a national plan is critical to ensuring that the airline industry, federal health officials and other federal agencies are prepared to deal with future outbreaks.
After examining the government response to the Ebola outbreak, the Government Accountability Office in 2015 recommended that such a plan be developed for the aviation sector. The Transportation Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed with the recommendation, but a plan was never created, because agencies couldn’t agree on which of them should take the lead.
“Keeping the traveling public and frontline aviation workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more difficult because of the lack of coordinated federal leadership,” Larsen said in a statement. “This bill includes common-sense measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in air travel, ensure the safety of passengers and aviation workers, and better prepare the U.S. aviation industry for public health crises.”
The measure also calls for additional study of the transmission of infectious diseases on airplanes and the creation of an FAA Center of Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation.
A study by researchers at Harvard’s, often cited by airlines, found that the risk of contracting the coronavirus on an airplane can be lower than it is for activities such as eating at a restaurant, in part because aircraft ventilation systems constantly circulate and refresh cabin air and because of strategies that include wearing masks and stepped-up cleaning. Researchers say they reached their conclusions independently, although the work was funded by the aviation industry.
The bill is co-sponsored by 15 other Democratic lawmakers and has the support of several industry groups, including the Airport Council International, the Coalition of Air Line Pilots Associations (CAPA) and Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
“Having a common sense, predictable and enforceable set of standards to protect the heath safety of our passengers and flight crews will be a critical component to ensure the airline industry’s recovery and restore our passenger’s confidence in air travel,” said Larry Rooney, president of CAPA. “We look forward to working with Chairs DeFazio and Larsen in seeing that this legislation is enacted into law.”
DeFazio and Larsen introduced a similar measure last year.
Share this article: