COVID-19 On Board Aircraft: FAA Issues Update

COVID-19 On Board Aircraft: FAA Issues Update 1COVID-19 On Board Aircraft
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The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) issued updated interim occupational health and safety guidance in connection with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for air carriers and crewmembers regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The CDC and FAA are providing this additional occupational health and safety guidance for air carriers and their crews to reduce crewmembers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 and decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on board aircraft and through air travel.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has spread throughout the world and to all US states and territories of the United States. Air carriers and crews conducting flight operations having a nexus to the United States, including both US and foreign air carriers, should follow CDC’s occupational health and safety guidance.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on January 30, 2020 that the outbreak of COVID-19 constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), on March 27, 2020, the CDC posted a global pandemic travel health notice, advising against all nonessential international travel. 

Because air travel remains essential, including transportation of personnel and supplies necessary to support COVID-19 on board aircraft response and recovery efforts, it is critical to protect the health and safety of crews while ensuring that essential flight operations can continue.

The FAA and CDC recommend that air carriers and crewmembers take precautions to avoid exposure of crewmembers to SARS-CoV-2 and to ensure crewmembers do not work while symptomatic with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, or after having tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. They may return to work only after they are no longer considered infectious according to CDC’s criteria for Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings. 

The FAA and CDC also recommend that crewmembers with known exposure to SARS-CoV-2, or persons with COVID-19, not work until 14 days after the last potential exposure. The CDC has issued guidance for exposed workers in critical infrastructure who might need to return to work before 14 days have passed: Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19. 

While air travel is a vital economic activity, CDC does not recommend allowing crewmembers with known exposures to continue to work, even if asymptomatic, because of the inability of crewmembers to remove themselves from the workplace if they develop symptoms during a flight and the challenges involved in effectively isolating a symptomatic person on board an aircraft. 

Further, to slow the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends the use of cloth face coverings while in public places and when social distancing is not practicable. Wearing face coverings helps people, who may have COVID-19 and not know it, avoid transmitting the virus to others. When considering this CDC guidance, air carriers and crewmembers should be mindful of the regulations regarding the use of oxygen masks where the operation requires an oxygen mask to be rapidly placed on the face, properly secured, sealed, and supplying oxygen upon demand. Air carriers should complete a safety risk assessment and provide guidance to their crewmembers on procedures for the use of face coverings as they may affect the donning of oxygen masks.

The FAA and CDC recommend and expect that all US-based air carriers and crewmembers, all non-U.S.-based air carriers operating flights with a US nexus, and all non-US-based crewmembers on flights with a US nexus implement and use their company-developed COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures in conjunction with the FAA and CDC occupational health and safety guidance. The FAA and CDC will update or supplement this SAFO as more information becomes available.

Air carriers and crewmembers should also review and incorporate into their COVID-19 preparedness plans and procedures, the CDC guidance, “Updated Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” on the CDC website at:  https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/air/managing-sick-travelers/ncov-airlines.html

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