All Aircraft Returning to US Subject to New CDC COVID-19 Test Order

Passengers arriving back in the US on international business aviation flights must now test negative for COVID-19. NBAA

The latest order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating that operators of flights coming into the US must confirm that passengers have had a negative COVID-19 test has caused some confusion in the media, as reporting from some mainstream outlets seemed to indicate that the rule applied only to scheduled airlines.

To clarify the order, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has new reporting now saying the CDC requirement applies not only to airlines but all aircraft operators—including business and general aviation operators. For this new order, the CDC defines an “aircraft” to include “all commercial, general aviation, and private aircraft destined for the United States from a foreign country.”

The CDC published order states that starting January 26, all pre-departure passengers two years of age or older must be tested no more than three days prior to their departure and must provide electronic or paper proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the aircraft operator.

“It’s important to note this order applies to all aircraft operators, including non-commercial aircraft operators,” said Brian Koester, CAM, NBAA’s director of flight operations and regulations. “NBAA previously requested the CDC and FAA provide alternate procedures for passengers departing countries with no COVID-19 testing capacity or documentation that doesn’t meet the CDC requirements for a qualifying test. The order published recently provides a waiver process for those scenarios and also outlines more detailed guidance on how to address passengers who have already recovered from COVID-19.”

To comply with the new CDC order, a passenger’s COVID-19 test result offered as proof must state specific wording such as “Negative,” “SARS-CoV-2 RNA not detected,” “SARS-CoV-2 Antigen not detected” or “COVID-19 not detected.” A test marked “invalid” is not acceptable.

While the new order describes requirements for passengers, the CDC clarifies what the order means for pilots and other crew members. “Crew members on official duty, whether working or in an assigned deadhead status (transportation of a flight crew member as a passenger or non-operating flight crew member), are exempt from the testing requirement as long as they follow industry-standard protocols for the prevention of COVID-19 as set forth in relevant Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFOs) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),” the CDC said.

It’s not just large business aircraft subject to the new CDC order; people on aircraft of any size must test negative for COVID-19. NBAA

The CDC order does not specify if a private owner/pilot operating a private flight is considered to be a “crew member” as stated in the CDC FAQs. In the case of an owner/pilot flying not-for-hire, NBAA’s Koester explained the situation this way; “This order was published by the CDC with the intent of preventing further spread of COVID-19 within our country. As such, they intended the scope of the exemption to be narrow. The CDC included an exemption for pilots as a practical matter and under the assumption that most professional pilots are under OSHA programs and following other federal guidelines to stay safe. You’ll note the CDC’s FAQ page indicates crew members are exempt if following FAA SAFO guidelines. If the owner-pilot did not follow the SAFO guidelines while out of the country, the exemption will not apply and the pilot(s) should receive a negative test result prior to the return flight.”

Exemptions to the order include federal law enforcement personnel while on official duty, including US military, and operators granted specific waivers from the application in the order based on the CDC’s determination that a foreign country lacks available SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity.

Outgoing President Trump had announced on January 18 that much of the CDC order was to be rescinded; however, Jen Psaki, incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, tweeted that the new administration doesn’t intend to lift the travel restrictions on January 26, so the CDC order would remain in place.

The CDC has published a series of FAQs that answers many questions, and the forms to adhere to the new order are available on the CDC website.

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

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