Pilots union wants expedited vaccine for flight crews

By , Daily Memphian Updated: December 11, 2020 9:06 AM CT | Published: December 10, 2020 8:52 PM CT

With COVID-19 cases rising among pilots, the Air Line Pilots Association called Thursday, Dec. 10, for the Federal Aviation Administration to expedite vaccines for flight crews.

The union, which represents more than 5,000 FedEx Express pilots, said in a letter to a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee, “As pilots continue the vital work of connecting our nation and transporting vital health care workers and products, our all-cargo flight crews, for example, have experienced an alarming increase in COVID-19 exposure and infections. Ensuring this (vaccine) prioritization will allow the logistical component of transporting the vaccine to continue unencumbered.”

FedEx ramps up for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

The ALPA president, Capt. Joe DePete, wrote the letter to the subcommittee in advance of a hearing on the logistics of transporting COVID-19 vaccines.

ALPA called for the Senate to support an extension of the Payroll Support Program to assist airline workers idled by the pandemic.

FedEx Express has experienced a growing number of positive cases of COVID-19 among its pilots as the company gears up to move vaccines and handle a holiday peak season surge in volume.

The FedEx unit of ALPA said on its website Tuesday, Dec. 8, that 292 FedEx pilots had tested positive for COVID-19. The number has doubled since late October.

The initial round of vaccinations will be given to front-line healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and workers and first responders.

The ALPA letter said, “It is critical that, following the initial distribution, airline pilots are provided priority access to the vaccine as well.”

FedEx is backing the pilots’ effort.

“We’re supporting efforts by the Cargo Airline Association and other organizations to seek priority vaccine access for critical infrastructure essential transportation personnel. We hope to know more in the coming weeks,” FedEx spokeswoman Bonny Harrison said.

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The Senate hearing featured testimony from the point people for vaccine shipping efforts at FedEx and UPS.

Richard W. Smith, president, The Americas for FedEx Express, told the committee the company was giving its highest priority to delivering vaccines.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, chairman of the transportation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, conducted the hearing.

The carrier representatives weren’t specifically asked about the ALPA issue. At the conclusion of the hearing, Fischer said letters from different organizations including a union would be entered in the hearing’s official record.

“As you know, airline pilots are required to maintain medical certification from the FAA, but approval for use of the vaccine is required by the agency before it can be administered to flight crews,” DePete’s letter said.

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“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine before the FAA’s approval could result in suspension of a pilot’s medical certificate, creating potential staffing challenges that would threaten the efficiency of vaccine distribution across the United States,” the letter said.

“It is essential that the FAA approve this vaccine for use by airline pilots as soon as possible following the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization to ensure that pilots who receive the vaccine will remain qualified to transport it nationwide,” DePete said.


FedEx Air Line Pilots Association UPS COVID-19 vaccine shipping
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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