Bill advances to full Senate floor, will convene aviation, security, and public health experts to develop national plans for protecting the flying public during and after the coronavirus pandemic
Washington (May 12, 2021) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today applauded the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s bipartisan passage of their Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act. This bill builds on ongoing COVID-19 response efforts and influenced a Biden administration executive order calling for interagency cooperation to develop national public health recommendations for domestic travel.
The lawmakers’ bipartisan legislation – which passed the Senate unanimously last year – specifically 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 COVID-19 public health emergency. 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.
“More than a year into this global emergency, the aviation industry continues to face complex questions with enormous implications for public health, passenger safety, and employee welfare,” said Senator Markey. “That’s why we need a structured task force for rebuilding air travel — one that includes robust collaboration among government, industry, labor, and other experts. This essential group will help address ongoing health risks in aviation, while also solving long term problems created by the coronavirus and charting a path forward as vaccinations accelerate and travel demand returns. I thank Ranking Member Wicker and Senator Blumenthal for their partnership, and I urge the full Senate to now pass our legislation without delay.”
“The aviation industry has suffered severe impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and travelers need confidence while returning to the skies,” said Ranking Member Wicker. “A government task force and advisory committee comprised of experts would work to address these challenges and ensure necessary safety and health policies are in place to protect workers and the flying public during and after the pandemic. I thank Senator Markey and Senator Blumenthal for their work on this critical issue.”
“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. I thank Senator Markey and Ranking Member Wicker for their partnership on this critical issue and look forward to this bipartisan measure being considered by the full Senate.”
The Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Massachusetts Port Authority, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Airports Council International – North America, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, and SEIU 32BJ.
“As people begin to travel again, airports must continue to be flexible to passenger needs, consistently maintain the new safety protocols, and prepare for what comes post-pandemic,” said Lisa Wieland, CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority. “We appreciate the efforts by Senator Markey to create a task force with industry guidelines and look forward to working with the task force to develop these important issues.”
“It has been over a year since the COVID-19 crisis nearly grounded our nation’s airlines,” 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. For this reason, APFA endorsed the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act introduced by Senator Markey that passed out of Committee today. The bill establishes a national task force for coordination between all relevant agencies and aviation stakeholders. Aviation stakeholders have learned many long-term lessons over the course of the past year that we need to implement. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we cannot afford to not have good policy in place, in both fighting a pandemic and containing a future outbreak from the onset.”
“The airport industry greatly appreciates the Senate Commerce Committee advancing this bipartisan bill to establish a federal task force to examine the health, safety, and security measures needed to meet the ongoing challenges in air travel during a global pandemic,” said Kevin M. Burke, President & CEO of the Airports Council International – North America. “We thank Senators Markey, Blumenthal, and Wicker for working together to spearhead this effort, which has been a key aviation-recovery initiative of ACI-NA.  Airports nationwide continue to work diligently to provide for the health and safety 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 challenging operational and infrastructure issues related to COVID-19 recovery and pandemic planning.”
“32BJ SEIU thanks Senators Markey, Wicker, and Blumenthal for championing this 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. We must center frontline, airport workers in a robust recovery for this crucial part of the economy.”
“The impact of the pandemic on aircraft mechanics and our fellow airline employees has been stratospheric,” said Bret Oestreich, National Director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. “We’re elated to see this task force of stakeholders, including labor, come together to make recommendations on the future of safe air travel—safe for workers and safe for the flying public. We commend Senators Markey, Blumenthal, and Wicker for their steadfast leadership the last two years on this issue and we look forward to contributing in this effort.”