Washington, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Representative Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced H.R. 7177, the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act.  Given serious health and safety concerns over commercial air travel during the outbreak of COVID-19, the bill would require the Secretaries of Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security to establish an expert Joint Task Force to develop federal safety guidelines and protect passengers and aviation employees against the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  The bill is a companion measure to Senate legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).  

“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 Rep. Lynch.  “With states beginning to slowly reopen and air travel starting to pick up, 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 colleague, Sen. Markey, for his partnership and leadership on this important bill.” 

“We must address an unprecedented series of immediate and long-term challenges to securing the health and safety of the flying public,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, author of the Senate version of the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act. “That’s why I first introduced this legislation and am now proud to partner with Representative Lynch. Our bill will task airports, airlines, aviation workers, public health experts, and many others to develop comprehensive plans for protecting travelers until this pandemic ends, and during the ‘new normal’ after the coronavirus subsides. I look forward to fighting together to make sure Congress creates this task force immediately.”

The Joint Task Force would also include representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Transportation Security Administration, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other relevant federal agencies.  Local airport authorities, labor organizations, public health experts, privacy and civil liberties groups, and other aviation stakeholders would also participate in the Task Force.  The Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act would require the Task Force to develop comprehensive health, safety, and security guidelines to enhance air travel operations during and after the coronavirus pandemic.  

The Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act is supported by several aviation safety stakeholders including the Airline Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Massachusetts Port Authority and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. 

“ALPA is grateful to Rep. Lynch for working to protect the health and safety of airline passengers and crews through a coordinated, government – industry approach,” said Captain Joe DePete, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International.  “In this time of a global pandemic, airline pilots have been on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, transporting health care workers and critical medical supplies – and we will be on the frontlines of helping our industry recover financially from this crisis. To ensure a successful economic turnaround, the industry needs 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. Voluntary compliance with these public health standards is not sufficient because hope is not a strategy – nor does it offer an optimal flight path for recovery.”

“AFA applauds Congressman Lynch  for introducing the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act,” said Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO. “This bill, now bicameral, provides a coordinated federal response to address the health and financial crisis aviation faces. Safety comes first always. Our lives depend on it and so does our financial security. This work will be vital as more people travel and we face the threat of a second wave." 

“We thank Congressman Lynch for advancing this important issue for Massport and our colleagues in the airport industry,” said Massport CEO Lisa Wieland.  “Airport operators across the country have increased cleaning measures and are adjusting operations to protect the health of passengers and airport employees. A federal task force is an important step in ensuring consistency across the airports as we try to restore the public’s confidence in air travel.”

“APFA continues to posit that passengers and crewmembers would be best served by uniform federal requirements that are standard across the aviation industry,” said Julie Hedrick, National Presidental of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 27,000+ Flight Attendants at American Airlines. “Rep. Lynch understands the importance of bringing our regulatory agencies, public health experts, and aviation stakeholders together in a national task force. Coordination is needed to develop science-based safety procedures to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and ensure safety and consistency across the country. We hope that this task force can convene immediately and quickly to ensure that our industry is meeting the highest possible safety standard.”

You can find a copy of H.R. 7177, the Ensuring Health Safety in the Skies Act  here