Boeing says requiring COVID-19 tests before U.S. domestic flights could pose economic risks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior Boeing executives have warned the White House that requiring COVID-19 tests before traveling on U.S. domestic passenger airline flights could pose significant economic harm.

FILE PHOTO: The Boeing logo is pictured at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

“Imposing such a burden on the already financially beleaguered airline industry has the potential for severe unintended consequences that will ripple across the entire economy,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Stan Deal and Chief Aerospace Safety Officer Michael Delaney wrote in a letter. The letter, seen by Reuters, was sent Friday and had not previously been reported.

Boeing and the White House declined to comment on the letter.

The federal government has been mulling additional measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus but has made no decisions on adding new requirements on domestic air travel.

A senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official (CDC) said on Jan. 26 that officials were “actively looking” at mandatory testing - days after new mandatory testing requirements for most international passengers took effect.

CDC officials have repeatedly urged Americans not to travel unless necessary.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that additional screening at places where people gather like airports could help detect more asymptomatic cases. “If we are traveling this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread,” she said.

Officials told Reuters there is no specific proposal currently being vetted by the administration and a new meeting with airlines could take place late this week.

The Boeing letter questioned the air travel emphasis if the CDC’s focus is the “corridor” around travel rather than aircraft.

“If this broader travel journey is, in fact, the main concern of the CDC, then science would dictate all aspects of travel should receive similar scrutiny including hotels, car rental agencies, mass transit, and restaurants,” the letter said.

Amtrak Chief Executive Bill Flynn told reporters Friday he was unsure how requiring testing before train trips “would actually work and how it could actually be enforced.”

The Boeing letter raised concerns about testing costs and availability, noting costs could easy top average base airfare.

“If a testing mandate is prescribed by the administration, funding should also be provided to comply,” Boeing said.

On Thursday, a top aviation union leader warned mandatory domestic COVID-19 testing requirements could devastate the airline industry and potentially lead to bankruptcies.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, raised concerns about domestic testing requirements in a meeting with President Joe Biden Friday, a spokeswoman for DeFazio confirmed.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Reuters last week decisions about domestic testing will be “guided by facts and by science.”

He added: “Safety is our bottom line because we think that’s not only the right answer for passengers and workers but ultimately it’s the right economic answer too — so that there’s full confidence among the traveling public.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Lincoln Feast.