“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”


Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, aviation stakeholders have been working around the clock to navigate through these very uncertain times. At the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), we are supporting pilots each day in every way possible, from defending our collective bargaining agreements to ensuring our flight decks are clean/disinfected, safe, and ready to attract passengers and spur a strong industry recovery.

As ALPA continues to do all we can to prevent further loss of life, stop the spread of the disease, and protect pilots’ jobs, it became clear in the early days of this global pandemic that there was an urgent need for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take regulatory action to mandate Centers for Disease Control protocols that would provide safety and health protections to crewmembers and passengers. That is the only way we are going regain public confidence in air travel and get our passengers back on board.

To date, the FAA has managed only to pass the buck and claim a lack of power to impose such mandates despite the fact that it indeed has that authority. For an agency that is responsible for keeping our skies safe and protecting the health and well-being of the flying public, the FAA has inexplicably decided that, in the midst of a global pandemic, that this responsibility rests elsewhere.

ALPA continues to relentlessly demand that government leaders provide a healthy workplace that protects pilots and also safeguards passengers, shippers, and the future of the air transportation system. Yet despite numerous efforts, neither the Department of Transportation (DOT) nor the FAA has taken accountability or responsibility.

Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that further fueled frustrations with the lack of government leadership. It outlined a priority recommendation that the DOT should act upon immediately to improve our national aviation sector’s preparedness for communicable disease threats from abroad. In the report, GAO officials highlighted that despite previous recommendations, the DOT was still underprepared for such an event.

In 2015, the GAO made a critical recommendation that the secretary of Transportation should work with relevant stakeholders, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan for communicable disease outbreaks. “Such a plan could establish a mechanism for coordination between the aviation and public health sectors and provides clear and transparent planning assumptions for a variety of types and levels of communicable disease threats,” the report noted.

Five years ago, the DOT had the opportunity to begin preparation on a plan that would have helped our aviation system better respond today’s reality. But for five years, those recommendations fell on deaf ears and, today, our vital aviation sector has diminished over 90 percent and the future remains unclear.

The GAO also indicated that the “DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to the relevant stakeholders that would be involved in such a broad effort and is responsible for overseeing the aviation sector.”

ALPA agrees with the GAO assessment that the DOT is well positioned to help lead the way during such a crisis as we are experiencing today. In a time when an absence of leadership has never been more detrimental to our county, the old saying continues to ring true: “Lead, follow, or get of the way.”

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