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We Need More Than “Should,” “May,” and “Recommend”

“To safeguard with ceaseless vigilance, the safety of scheduled air transportation in recognition of the high degree of public trust, confidence and responsibility placed on the members.”
— Allied Pilots Association Constitution and Bylaws

“The captain is responsible for the safety of the passengers, crewmembers, cargo and the aircraft.”
— American Airlines Flight Operations Manual

Since becoming aware of COVID-19, APA pilots have sustained our commitment to being safety leaders. During this pandemic, that commitment has never been more important.

Flight crews across the country have called on our respective airlines, regulators, and elected officials to mandate all prudent and pre-emptive safety measures to protect us and our passengers.

Last week, the FAA issued Safety Alert for Operators 20009. While this seven-page document relayed guidance from the CDC regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), aircraft cleaning, and COVID-19 testing and screening, it failed to mandate any standard of compliance. In fact, it used the words “should,” “may,” and “recommend” a combined 57 times.

This is not the time for words like “should,” “may,” and “recommend.” This is the time for “must,” “shall,” and “mandate.”

In order to instill confidence in air travel today and tomorrow and protect the airlines’ role as a national security asset, we must have government mandates directing the following during this period of threat and recovery:

  • PPE for passengers and flight crews
  • Deep cleaning and disinfection of aircraft and airports, with compliance recorded
  • COVID-19 screening for passengers and flight crews
  • Priority COVID-19 testing for flight crews

In a response to a recent letter from ALPA, the FAA affirmed its belief that it is “not a public health agency,” adding that flight crews “must look to other U.S. Government agencies for guidance on public and occupational health.”

Simply put, the FAA said, “That’s not our job.” But if it’s not the FAA’s job, then whose is it? If the FAA does not believe it has the authority to mandate the CDC’s recommendations, then Congress or the Trump administration needs to step in and make it so, or otherwise require adherence to minimum standards for all flight crews and passengers in the COVID-19 environment.

We are providing safe transport for critical health care professionals as they deploy across our country to fight this battle, while also carrying critical medical and infrastructure cargo and other passengers to their essential destinations. Clearly, our service is a foundation for national security and maintains our country’s supply chain. We do this often with the inability to maintain CDC-recommended safe distancing due to our confined workspaces and without mandated compliance with other CDC guidelines.

Flight crews are a unique ― and potentially swift ― vector for the virus, as the only essential work group repeatedly traveling across the country. As we continue our critical service, including transporting members of Congress to and from Washington, D.C., it is even more important that passengers and flight crews have full confidence that a minimum standard of safety exists, no matter the airline.

Flight crews must be provided higher priority for PPE and COVID-19 testing. Additionally, we must have mandated deep cleaning of airports and aircraft, as well as COVID-19 screening of passengers and flight crews. Not only would these mandates protect passengers, flight crews, and our industry, they would also protect the investment of taxpayer funds being delivered through the CARES Act.

The traveling public will be safer and more willing to travel once restrictions are lifted if they are aware that flight crews are tested and aircraft are cleaned to at least a mandated standard.

All APA assets are in full engagement mode with management, regulators, and elected officials to ensure flight crews across the industry have PPE, priority access to testing and screening, and properly cleaned aircraft and airports.

Please continue to protect the safety of your flights. If you are not comfortable with the availability of PPE and aircraft cleaning, professionally notify operations and await compliance. Your fellow crew members, passengers, airline, and industry are counting on it.

Stay safe, healthy, and focused.

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