Note: This article is current as of April 23, 2020 and consists of highlights from various resources, but does not include all information available on each topic. We recommend our readers check current FAA policies and regulations online as well as industry associations.
FAA and FARS
The FAA has temporarily adjusted operating hours for approximately 100 air traffic control towers across the country. The decisions on the adjusted hours were based on the reduction in air traffic and considerations of maintaining safe and efficient operations. The FAA will continue to assess the ATC needs and traffic counts and can return ATC operations to normal hours as needed. There are FAQs on the website. Airlines and TSA have reported a 96% drop in air travel as COVID-19 continues.
The FAA has issued two new Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFO) this last week. One was specifically on health guidance for Air Carriers and Crews and replaces the prior SAFO 20003. Importantly, the FAA and CDC recommend that air carriers and crewmembers take precautions to avoid exposure of crewmembers to COVID-19 and to ensure crewmembers do not work while symptomatic or after having tested positive for COVID-19. 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 also recommends a 14-day “quarantine” and no work after the last potential exposure, and further recommends the use of face coverings in public places where social distancing is not practical.
The other SAFO was issued on recommendations for airlines to evaluate regulatory implications of safety risks when transporting cargo inside passenger planes under Part 121 of the FARs. Operators that hold certificates to conduct operations under Part 121 may seek to use airplanes configured with passenger cabins to carry cargo only or to carry additional cargo without passengers onboard. It is an extraordinary situation, however, for an entire passenger cabin to be loaded with cargo. Accordingly, this SAFO provides information and recommendations for certificate holders to better evaluate regulatory implications and safety risks when transporting only cargo inside the passenger cabin of an airplane under Part 121. Certificate holders should be aware that all other regulatory requirements, such as those applicable to the airplane type design and particular operation still apply. The SAFO lists recommendation actions for safety risk assessment considerations, including weight and balance manuals/weight and balance programs, fire detection, prevention and suppression, hazardous materials, and crew rest, flight and duty time.
The FAA has also barred active pilots from taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to prevent the coronavirus. Importantly, the FAA has determined that the use of these medications is disqualifying while on the medications and for 48-hours after the last dose. The FAA noted that since the drugs entered the market, they have long been considered “generally incompatible for those performing safety related aviation duties.”
The FAA is enabling drone use for COVID-19 response efforts within the current existing regulations and emergency procedures. Part 107 (small unmanned aircraft) and the Certificate of Authorization process allow operators to transport goods and certain medical supplies, including test kits, most prescription drugs and, under certain circumstances, blood, provided that the flight complies with all provisions of the rule or authorization. The FAA issues special approvals, some in less than an hour, for flights that support emergency activities and certain government, health, or community initiatives.
AOPA also reported on Zipline, a company that has flown medical delivery drones in Africa for years. The fleet of drones are fixed-wing UAS designed to navigate autonomously and to drop payloads under parachutes. These UAS are going to be introduced in the fall in North Carolina as part of the advanced testing program, and will likely include ADS-B for collision risk mitigation.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) serves as the key facilitator for State and other members of the Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) programme. It has now included a list of FAQs on its website regarding the Regulatory Framework and Implementation of COVID-19 response measures. ICAO standards require member-States to have a National Aviation Plan and National Air Transport Facilitation Programme in place. On April 15, 2020, ICAO issued advice to national governments on repatriation of certain flights. Designation of flights repatriating eligible persons from other States would ensure that necessary authorizations for the entry, departure and transit of aircraft carrying out such flights.