The background paper was prepared in advance of a call that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had with aviation industry leaders on February 10 to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the industry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order on international air travel currently requires passengers on commercial flights and everyone, including the pilot (if not following the COVID-19 Safety Alert for Operators), on general aviation flights arriving in the United States from a foreign country to supply results of a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of the flight, or proof of recovery from the virus.
AOPA participated in the call with Buttigieg, making the case that expanding such a mandate would not be practical or necessary for domestic GA flights. The secretary praised the critical role that aviation has had in moving people and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its importance to the nation’s economic health.
In the background paper, the groups wrote that “studies by both the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Aviation Initiative (APHI) and US TRANSCOM found that the risk of onboard transmission is low when masks are properly and consistently worn. Similarly, a recent study in Canada found that travel was the smallest contributor to new COVID-19 infections and has remained extremely low throughout the crisis, supported by a government-enforced mask mandate.”
Requiring testing for domestic air travel would “set unachievable standards for protecting public health, and do little to further curb COVID-19 transmission,” the groups wrote, explaining that such a policy would require “a 42% increase in daily testing capacity nationwide” to have everyone tested for the more than 12,200 domestic daily departures.
Such a mandate would not reduce risk for a GA pilot who could either drive or fly a small aircraft to a destination. It could redirect travel to other modes of transportation that do not currently have all the mitigation measures that aviation offers and disenfranchise rural communities without a robust testing infrastructure, dramatically reducing air travel and leading to more job losses.
The groups pledged their willingness to work with the COVID-19 response team and federal agencies “to develop and implement risk-based, data-driven public health measures that enhance the safety of commercial aviation.”
AOPA is encouraged that Buttigieg reached out to aviation industry leaders so early in his tenure to listen, learn, and better understand the challenges faced by the industry, the contributions it has made to the fight against COVID-19, and the areas of focus needed to “build back better” as the nation recovers from the pandemic and its effects.