Legislation will convene aviation, security, and public health experts to develop national plans for protecting the flying public during and after pandemic
Washington (January 22, 2020) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08) today announced their reintroduction of the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act on the heels of a Biden administration executive order signed yesterday calling for interagency cooperation to develop recommendations for national public health measures for domestic travel. The lawmakers’ legislation – which earned bipartisan approval and passed the Senate unanimously last year – instructs the Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security to establish a joint task force on air travel during and after the coronavirus pandemic. This task force – advised by aviation, security and public health experts – will then develop recommended requirements, plans, and guidelines to address the health, safety, security, and logistical challenges for air travel moving forward. The lawmakers’ legislation would build on the Biden executive order by clearly establishing the risks that must be addressed, the stakeholders that should be involved, and the process for developing national standards for safe air travel.
“The coronavirus has had an enormous impact on every person and industry in the United States, but air travel has been uniquely affected by the ongoing emergency,” said Senator Markey. “That’s why experts across all of the relevant agencies and groups must come together to address the immediate challenges to safety in our skies, as well as start planning for a ‘new normal’ after the coronavirus subsides. I’m glad to see that President Biden is listening and taking action to promote this kind of initiative, and I look forward to building on this progress with our legislation. We must think big and provide consistent solutions to all of the interconnected health risks a global pandemic poses, including standards for passenger health screenings, social distancing while traveling, sanitation of aircraft, and more.”
“The Air Travel Task Force created by this bill will address head-on the staggering air travel challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Blumenthal. “With experts including aviation workers, public health specialists, and airports, this task force will help ensure the safety and health of our flying public and aviation workers. Beyond this crisis, the recommendations, policies, and guidelines set out by the task force will lead the way to resume safe, responsible operations and travel.”
“While commercial airlines have taken certain preventative steps in response to the spread of COVID-19, mask requirements, seating caps, and other measures are not uniform or federally mandated across the airline industry,” said Representative Lynch.  “As we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration must not continue to leave the responsibility of air travel safety up to individual commercial carriers on an ad hoc basis.  Through this legislation, we will develop a cohesive federal strategy to ensure the health and safety of airline passengers, employees, and the public at-large.  I’d like to thank my colleagues, Sen. Markey and Sen. Blumenthal, for their partnership on this important bill.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.
“We welcome President Biden’s nationwide approach to crushing the virus and lifting us out of this pandemic. Last year in absence of federal leadership, Senator Markey, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Lynch proposed the Air Travel Task Force to address immediate health and safety issues for passengers and workers during the pandemic and build a plan to recover once the virus is contained. Now we can put their legislation into action,” said Sara Nelson, President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants at 17 airlines. “Aviation safety is grounded in the principle that ‘we’re all in this together.’ Over the last year, airlines and airports put in place a patchwork of COVID-19 safety measures that were helpful, but lacked clear, consistent procedures needed across the system to be truly effective. We look forward to working with the Biden administration on well-planned, consistent procedures that everyone can follow for one level of safety. Thank you to Senator Markey, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Lynch for taking action on this critical need.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed air travel. Airports must continue to adapt as the pandemic evolves and be prepared for post-pandemic operations,” said Massport CEO Lisa Wieland. “I want to thank Senator Markey and Congressman Lynch for reintroducing a bill to create a task force focused on developing universal standards for U.S. airports that gives passengers predictability and confidence.”
“It has been almost a year since the COVID-19 crisis brought our nation's airlines to a near standstill,” said Julie Hedrick, National President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 24,000+ Flight Attendants at American Airlines. “Is the aviation industry better prepared for a future pandemic than we were a year ago? We can be and should be. This is why APFA supports the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act introduced today by Senator Markey, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Lynch. The bill establishes a national task force for coordination between all relevant agencies and aviation stakeholders. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that we must have policy in place to maintain a safe environment on board our aircraft and contain any future pandemics from the onset.
“We applaud Senator Markey, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Lynch for their leadership to ensure we have a coordinated, government – industry approach to protecting the health and safety of passengers and crews in this time of a global pandemic,” said Captain Joe DePete, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. “Airline pilots are on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, transporting vaccines, critical medical supplies and we will continue to be on the frontlines as we help our industry recover. The first step to ensuring an economic turnaround is to have uniform, mandatory guidelines for airlines to follow when it comes to airplane cleaning and disinfecting, employee notification of exposure to COVID-19 and the use of masks for passengers and crew. Hoping for voluntary compliance with these public health standards will not cut it because hope is not a strategy – nor does it offer an appropriate flight path for recovery.”
“U.S. airports greatly appreciate the continued work in Congress to establish a federal task force to examine the health, safety, and security measures needed to meet the ongoing challenges in air travel during this global pandemic,” said Kevin M. Burke, President & CEO of Airports Council International – North America. “We thank Senator Markey, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Lynch for spearheading this effort, which has been key among ACI-NA’s aviation recovery initiatives. Airports continue to work diligently to provide for the health, safety, and security of the traveling public and airport workers. As we look to the future of air travel and prepare for the return of more travelers, a task force of federal agencies and aviation industry partners will be very helpful in developing meaningful guidelines and recommendations to address the operational issues and infrastructure challenges related to COVID-19 recovery and pandemic planning.”
“AMFA strongly supports the passage of the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act as a necessary step forward in supporting an aviation industry greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bret Oestreich, National Director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA). “We thank Senator Markey, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Lynch for their continued leadership and steadfast pursuit of safety for both the flying public and the men and women who comprise the aviation industry. Bringing together aviation experts, including the aircraft mechanic labor voice, ensures the task force created by this legislation will be diverse, well rounded, and best suited to offer recommendations that progress the industry towards the new normal. We strongly urge swift passage of this bill.”
“SEIU 32BJ thanks Senators Markey and Blumenthal for their championing of this bill, and Rep. Lynch for his leadership on the House companion bill, which will make sure all of the important voices are heard – including low-wage frontline airport workers, most of whom are Black and Brown,” said Kyle Bragg, President of SEIU 32BJ. “As we work together to build back the airline industry, worker and passenger health and safety is crucial to public confidence in air travel, and for a faster recovery for this crucial part of the economy.”