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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

House Passes National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act

COVID-19 is the latest disease to raise concerns over contagions spread through air travel, but the Government Accountability Office has been calling for an aviation preparedness plan for several years.

The House of Representatives has passed the National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act of 2022.

The Act directs the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to develop a National Aviation Preparedness Plan. The bill also mandates improved coordination between federal agencies, identification of strategies to stop the spread of communicable disease outbreaks and increased collaboration between U.S. air carriers, airports, aviation workers, the DOT and other federal agencies to ensure a more effective response to future pandemics. It would consider the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies that address communicable disease with respect to air transportation.

COVID-19 is the latest disease to raise concerns over contagions spread through air travel, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been calling for an aviation preparedness plan for several years. As far back as 2015, during the Ebola epidemic, GAO recommended that DOT develop a comprehensive national aviation preparedness plan for communicable disease outbreaks. GAO said in June 2020 that such a plan could have improved coordination between public-health and aviation sectors during COVID-19 to address issues like passenger screening. DOT agreed that a plan is needed, but the agency suggested that HHS and the DHS have responsibility for communicable disease response and preparedness planning. Thus, with each agency believing it should be someone else’s responsibility to take the bull by the horns, the aviation sector has worked through the current pandemic – and continues to do so – without a national plan.

The new legislation approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on July 20 and now passed by the House calls for an adaptable and scalable framework for airports and air carriers to align plans, including the emergency response plans, of such airports and air carriers and provide guidance as to each individual plan. It would also strive to improve coordination among airports, air carriers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other appropriate Federal entities, and State and local governments and health agencies with respect to preparing for and responding to communicable disease outbreaks.

“I applaud the House for passing the National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act, which will allow us to plan for future pandemics,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said. “The National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act will direct federal agencies and stakeholders to develop a national strategy to ensure the health and safety of airline passengers and the aviation workforce during future pandemics. I applaud Reps. Rick Larsen and Don Beyer, whose work on this piece of legislation was instrumental. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill without delay.” 

“Seven years ago, a Government Accountability Office study I requested during the emergence of Ebola found the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan aimed at preventing and containing diseases through air travel and the U.S. should develop such a plan as soon as possible. Lessons learned from the Ebola and COVID-19 pandemics show the urgent need for a plan to ensure the safety of aviation crews, employees and passengers during future public health emergencies,” Aviation Chair Rick Larsen (D-WA) said. “I look forward to continue working with Rep. Beyer and my colleagues to get this bill over the finish line to keep the traveling public healthy and safe.”

“A national aviation preparedness plan could have saved lives at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic with a stronger, quicker response. It is imperative that we learn from those mistakes to do better in the future, because it is extremely unlikely that Covid will be the last pandemic,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) said. “House passage of this bill today is a big step toward answering the need for a coordinated national strategy to prevent spread of disease by air travel, a crucial element for pandemic response identified by government watchdogs and the U.N., among others. I thank Rep. Larsen for his leadership on this legislation, and urge the Senate to send it to the President for signature.”

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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