The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) continues sparring with the Federal Aviation Administration over the FAA’s decision not to require airlines to follow health and sanitation guidelines aimed at protecting workers from catching coronavirus.

ALPA says the FAA has an obligation to enforce health guidelines and accuses the FAA of cowing to airlines. The agency, however, notes it already issued its own health guidance and says its focus is flight safety, not public health.

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“I want to express my frustration and profound disappointment at your unwillingness to take the action we requested,” ALPA president Joseph DePete says in a 17 April letter to FAA administrator Steve Dickson.

An “absence of… FAA leadership” has left pilots at increased risk, says the letter. “The FAA clearly agrees with ALPA that it has the statutory authority and responsibility to act but is refusing to exercise that authority because it does not have the moral courage to stand up to the airlines.”

DePete’s letter says pilots have reported “a significant number” of failures to meet coronavirus-related guidance published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pilots have reported instances of cockpits not being disinfected and the use of disinfectants that do not meet CDC guidelines, says DePete. The letter also says airlines have required pilots to fly after being exposed to someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

ALPA says pilots are testing positive for coronavirus at twice the average US rate.

DePete first raised ALPA’s concern in a letter to Dickson on 31 March, asking the FAA to require airlines to follow guidance CDC guidance. ALPA argues that the “FAA has the statutory authority and responsibility to promote the safe operations of civil aircraft,” that letter said.

Dickson responded in a 14 March letter, saying his agency will address ALPA’s concerns with carriers. But Dickson said the FAA does not oversee public health issues. “We are not a public health agency,” Dickson wrote. “Airlines are responsible for the occupational health of their workforce.”

Dickson’s letter noted that the FAA, on 2 February, issued coronavirus-related health guidance that recommended actions crewmembers can take to stay healthy and steps airlines can take to protect crews.