Cantwell Calls on White House to Establish Federal COVID-19 Guidelines for Aviation Industry

Letter follows up on recommendations made by University of Washington School of Public Health Dean Dr. Hilary Godwin at committee hearing last week

May 11, 2020

Cantwell: “We need clear, uniform, national guidelines for airlines and airports based on the best information from our public health experts”

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent a letter to members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force calling for the establishment of federal COVID-19 guidelines for the aviation sector to keep the traveling public and workers safe during the coronavirus crisis. The letter is addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Cantwell’s letter comes as a number of airports and aviation groups have also called on the federal government to institute COVID-19 guidelines and protocols, including temperature checks and other methods of health screening, for the industry to keep travelers and workers safe.

“To instill public confidence and mitigate a resurgence of the coronavirus from increased travel, we need clear, uniform, national guidelines for airlines and airports based on the best information from our public health experts,” Cantwell wrote. “If those guidelines are not followed, we need oversight from the federal agencies to protect the traveling public and the workers throughout the aviation system.”

Cantwell’s letter comes after the Commerce Committee held a hearing on the aviation industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the hearing, Dr. Hilary Godwin, the Dean of Public Health at the University of Washington, testified about the need for national guidelines to ensure safety in her written and oral testimony, saying, “The aviation industry and lawmakers must also work closely with federal, state, territorial and local health agencies to rapidly integrate new information, ensure that communities have the plans, tools and resources to identify potentially exposed individuals during and after air travel, as well as ensure sufficient healthcare capacity in high volume destinations. Public health professionals must be involved in these conversations and throughout the planning process.”

In her Q&A with Godwin, Ranking Member Cantwell followed up on the importance of national guidelines asking, “What level of travel do you think that aviation, if we were following the guidelines and implementing a national guideline policy as you discussed, what level of air travel do you think that we could achieve safely?”

Dr. Godwin responded, “We expect people to reenter into travel gradually. And that gives us a period of time to implement these measures, in a way that is very protective of travelers and airport personnel and workers… Normally we would try to fly as few planes as possible with as many people on each plane as possible, and what we know from public health is that it’s that close proximity of individuals for an extended period of time that creates the greatest risk of transmission. So, we want to balance that driver to lower the costs with those public safety considerations.”

Cantwell agreed, “You’re trying to implement the healthcare policy. That’s our best bet: implement the healthcare policies, and then we can move forward.”

Ranking Member Cantwell’s letter highlights Dr. Godwin’s suggested measures to create a net of protections including:

  • contact tracing
  • screening individuals for symptoms prior to travel
  • wearing masks and gloves when appropriate
  • frequently cleaning high touch surfaces
  • minimizing contact between individuals at screening points and during flights, and
  • COVID-19 testing at airport entry points once there is widespread availability of inexpensive point-of-care tests.

“The federal government must issue clear and uniform guidelines to our airlines and the traveling public…The aviation industry is extremely important to a fully functioning economy and the federal government should be able to balance the need for it to operate efficiently and protect workers and passengers,” the letter concludes.

Ranking Member Cantwell’s full letter can be found HERE.