By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plan to update guidance for airline flight crews about dealing with the coronavirus pandemic amid concerns from pilots, but regulators are not mandating new safety requirements.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a letter to a pilots union released Friday the updated guidance “should further strengthen language, provide clarification, and reflect the growing understanding of presymptomatic/ asymptomatic transmission, as well as new guidance on face coverings.”
Last week, the Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA) urged the administration to require airlines to fully comply with CDC guidelines on flight deck cleaning and disinfecting.
The union said at least three ALPA pilots have died after contracting the coronavirus and 250 of its members have tested positive.
Dickson said the FAA is in discussions with airlines and takes “seriously any allegations of airline failure to adhere to crewmember health guidance; however, airlines are responsible for the occupational health of their workforce.”
He added that the FAA “will determine if additional actions are necessary or feasible to motivate compliance” by airlines.
ALPA told the FAA last month that airlines were not following guidance to properly clean and disinfect flight decks.
ALPA President Captain Joe DePete warned that the U.S. aviation system may “grind to a complete halt” without action by U.S. officials.
DePete said Friday in a letter to the FAA he was disappointed at the FAA’s “unwillingness to take the action.” He called the FAA’s guidance and voluntary efforts “categorically insufficient to protect pilots.”
The FAA has taken a number of regulatory steps to address the coronavirus, including allowing pilots and flight engineers with expiring medical certificates to continue flights during a grace period.
The FAA granted grace periods for completing some training and qualification requirements, and gave crewmembers relief from having to don protective breathing equipment or oxygen masks in training, checking, or evaluation. This reduces the likelihood of pilot-to-pilot transmission, protects their health, and reduces anxiety over qualification expirations.
The FAA also issued an exemption that enables flight attendants to sit away from their usual seats to maintain social distancing and to reduce equipment demonstration when giving passenger safety briefings. The FAA also revised its rules on when pilots must don cockpit oxygen masks to reduce the risk of spreading the virus between pilots.
U.S. airlines have canceled hundreds of thousands of flights as passenger traffic has fallen by 95% because of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)