U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Rick Larsen (D-WA), chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation, joined 15 of their colleagues in introducing the Health Flights Act of 2021 on Thursday.
The legislation would create a set of uniform requirements during pandemics to help keep passengers, airline workers, and airport workers healthy by minimizing the transmission of viruses. Additionally, the legislation would prepare U.S. aviation stakeholders for any future public health emergencies like pandemics or epidemics to develop a national preparedness plan that would define the aviation system’s response to outbreaks.
“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. 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 said. “We need the Healthy Flights Act. It provides clear, consistent rules and guidelines that give flight and cabin crews the authority they need to keep passengers safe, mitigate the spread of this insidious disease, and help our country prepare for future pandemics. In the meantime, the Biden administration must extend the federal mask mandate while this bill moves through Congress.”
Specifically, the bill would clarify the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authority to impose air travel requirements during public health emergencies and require passengers to wear masks onboard aircraft and within airports. The bill would also require airlines to provide necessary personal protective equipment to airline employees and FAA employees. Further, the bill would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to develop a National Aviation Preparedness Plan to respond to epidemics or pandemics, create an FAA Center of Excellence on Infectious Disease Response and Prevention in Aviation. The bill would also call for a study on how infectious diseases are transmitted in airplane cabins.
“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. “This bill includes commonsense 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 bill is supported by several airline industry organizations, including the American Association of Airport Executives; Air Line Pilots Association; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; and the Transport Workers Union of America, among others.