The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that while the agency is encouraging compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, it won’t mandate the wearing of facial coverings on flights, leaving that decision to individual airlines.
Administrator Stephen Dickson told a Senate committee on June 17 said his agency defers to the CDC on health-related matters.
“Our space is aviation safety and their space is public health,” Dickson said, adding that the FAA would nevertheless “expect the traveling public to follow airline crew directions and policies, which are in place for passenger protection and the health of air crews, and to take very seriously the precautions recommended by the CDC.”
Many airlines have begun requiring passengers to wear masks on flights to protect fellow travelers and crew and, more broadly, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. United Airlines said in a statement on June 15 that passengers who refuse to comply with the company’s mask-wearing policies on flights may be put on a blacklist and lose travel privileges.
“These will not be regulatory mandates,” Dickson told lawmakers, referring to the mask-wearing policies of individual airlines, and added that the agency would support implementation of CDC health guidance on COVID-19.
“As we move through the phases of reopening, the FAA will continue to support airlines and their front-line employees as they implement these CDC guidelines,” Dickson said. “We will continue to apply our aviation expertise to help lead efforts with other Federal agencies, with industry, and with our international partners to address public health risk in the air transportation system.”
Meanwhile, several lawmakers called for the FAA to be more proactive.
“Reports have shown enforcement for noncompliance has been uneven and difficult,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). “The FAA needs to do more to ensure the aviation system is mitigating the spread of the virus.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, “I just don’t get why you wouldn’t want this to be mandatory.”
Dickson acknowledged the importance of COVID-19-related safety precautions and urged voluntary compliance.
“Secretary Chao and the Department of Transportation have been clear that passengers should wear face coverings while traveling by air, for their own protection and the protection of those around them,” he said.
“Face coverings are especially important in situations where social distancing is not feasible,” he said, adding, “This comes as a health guideline from the agency responsible for public health, the CDC.”