ALPA to FAA: Get Out of the Way, Pilots Are Trying to Help Fight This Pandemic

By ALPA President Capt. Joe DePete 

Right now, the same airline pilots who fly your family for a vacation and deliver products for your business, large and small, are now fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 public-health crisis—transporting doctors, nurses, and medical personnel to the outbreak hotspots and keeping global supply chains moving to provide essential medical supplies. These same airline pilots are also helping strengthen the U.S. and Canadian economies by flying goods and services that drive commerce.


As airline pilots perform our duty, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is not doing its job by regulating when it’s urgently needed to protect us as we help in the fight against the pandemic. The FAA is refusing to make sure that U.S. airlines follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines for exposure notification and workplace sanitation—guidelines that, if enforced, will not only help protect our pilots’ health and that of our families but will also help make certain that pilots are available to continue to help the world respond to the pandemic. 


On April 9, ALPA sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, calling on the FAA to immediately issue a mandatory order requiring U.S. airlines to meet CDC guidelines for employee test-positive notification and flight deck cleaning and sanitation during the COVID-19 public-health crisis. 


ALPA first raised this issue with the U.S. aviation regulator nearly two weeks ago. 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. 


In a March 31 letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, ALPA pointed out the urgent need for 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.


The FAA’s unwillingness to compel airlines to adhere to the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines poses an unacceptable risk to airline pilots, flightcrew members, our families, and our communities, but the risk goes far beyond us. The inadequate application of CDC guidance by U.S. airlines undermines the ability of the United States to save its citizens’ lives. By exposing the pilot workforce to increased risk, the U.S. government is compromising pilots’ ability to continue to help our country fight this pandemic through efforts such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Project Airbridge, a public-private partnership managed by the federal government to transport critical personal protective equipment and other supplies from manufacturers around the world to the United States. 


It’s outrageous that, at a time of crisis, one part of the federal government, the FAA, is hindering another, FEMA, as it works to transport lifesaving supplies to those who are battling this pandemic. This is no time for bureaucratic bungling or turf wars. The only war we should be fighting right now is the one against COVID-19—and we should be doing everything in our power to keep the soldiers on the frontlines safe and healthy. 


During this crisis and throughout our union’s history, ALPA pilots have stood together as one. Our unity is the quintessential core of everything we do. Today, we speak with one voice to call on the FAA to act immediately to protect our pilot workforce and help us continue to proudly serve on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19 by safely delivering the doctors, nurses, equipment, and supplies to the communities that so desperately need them.

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