Cargo pi­lots push for more pro­tec­tion against COVID-19

Orlando Sentinel - - Wallstreet Report - By Kyle Arnold

DAL­LAS — Air cargo pi­lots say they are at risk be­cause of a patch­work of reg­u­la­tions and a short­age of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment at a time when the COVID-19 pan­demic is in­creas­ing the world’s re­liance on de­liv­ered goods.

Bob Travis, pres­i­dent of the In­de­pen­dent Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion for UPS pi­lots, said mem­bers are fly­ing on week­long trips across mul­ti­ple con­ti­nents with an in­suf­fi­cient sup­ply of face masks and gloves and with­out COVID-19 test­ing.

“The risks that we are fac­ing are re­ally unique in the in­dus­try,” Travis said. “Our pi­lots, when they fly in­ter­na­tion­ally, they don’t just fly, lay over and then re­turn. We fly for eight, nine or 10 days.”

He said pi­lots are be­ing is­sued sin­gle-use face masks that are of­ten ex­pected to “last for weeks.”

Louisville, Ken­tuck­y­based UPS said it “has gone to great lengths to en­sure our pi­lots’ safety,” in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing masks and ther­mome­ters.

“We have en­hanced clean­ing pro­to­cols for air­craft, fa­cil­i­ties and ve­hi­cles, and we have ed­u­cated our pi­lots about so­cial dis­tanc­ing, fre­quent hand wash­ing, and other ways to re­duce the po­ten­tial for trans­mit­ting the virus,” said a state­ment from UPS spokesman Mike Man­geot. “We also have told them to use pri­vate trans­porta­tion to and from the air­ports on a lay­over, and avoid go­ing out in pub­lic un­less nec­es­sary.”

Pi­lot unions are push­ing for fed­eral avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tors to take a greater role in the COVID-19 pan­demic, even though air­lines have stepped in with rules for face masks and so­cial dis­tanc­ing on planes.

The Al­lied Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents Amer­i­can Air­lines’ 15,000 pi­lots, said there needs to be a fed­eral rule for crew mem­bers and pas­sen­gers to wear face masks. Air­lines have told pas­sen­gers they need face masks once they get on board but have in­structed crews to re­lax en­force­ment once planes de­part.

“Al­though the FAA’s statu­tory author­ity is to reg­u­late the safe op­er­a­tion of civil air­craft, we are lend­ing avi­a­tion ex­per­tise to fed­eral pub­lic health agen­cies and air­lines as they is­sue guid­ance for crew mem­bers, in­clud­ing health mon­i­tor­ing, screen­ing pro­to­cols and air­craft clean­ing,” said a state­ment from the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But even com­mer­cial air­line pi­lots are sud­denly be­com­ing cargo pi­lots.

Amer­i­can Air­lines has started 140 cargo flights a week be­tween spots such as DFW In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Madrid and Hong Kong. The In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion has warned of a short­age of air cargo ca­pac­ity from the COVID-19 pan­demic be­cause com­mer­cial pas­sen­ger car­ri­ers, which of­ten fly with cargo, have se­verely cut back on op­er­a­tions.

Travis, a for­mer Amer­i­can Air­lines pi­lot who went to UPS in the 1990s, said in­ter­na­tional air cargo pi­lots are now at risk be­cause of vary­ing in­ter­na­tional re­sponses to the COVID-19 pan­demic, in­clud­ing forced nasal swab test­ing and threat­ened hos­pi­tal­iza­tions due to el­e­vated tem­per­a­tures.

“They are be­ing in­va­sively tested,” Travis said. “A crew mem­ber was held down in a for­eign coun­try to do this test­ing.”

To date, 13 union mem­bers have tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19 out of 2,700 to­tal.

Eric Fer­gu­son, head of the Al­lied Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion at Amer­i­can, said his union hasn’t heard of prob­lems with for­eign COVID-19 pro­to­cols be­cause the com­pany has helped smooth the process for pi­lots.


Of­fi­cers leave a UPS plane at Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Ship­ping de­mands have spiked amid the pan­demic.

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