Biden's mask mandate may extend to private jet charter flights

By Doug Gollan, January 25, 2021

President Biden’s Executive Order promoting COVID-19 safety for air travel could impact private jet charter and jet card flights

President Joseph R. Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel could end up including private jet charter and jet card flights.

The 1,692-word mandate issued on the 46th President’s second day in the office requires masks to be worn in compliance with CDC guidelines in or on airports, commercial aircraft, trains, public maritime vessels, including ferries, and intercity bus services.

President Biden’s executive order on COVID-19 travel safety could extend passengers’ mask requirement to private jet charter flights.

Key for private aviation will be the application and exemptions. You may remember that the tax holiday on the 7.5% Federal Excise Tax applied under the CARES Act wasn’t specifically targeted at private aviation. It was an inclusion under the broad definition of commercial aviation, which includes flights operated under FAR Part 135. It covers both on-demand charter flights and your flights as part of jet card memberships. According to the FAA, commercial aviation is, generally speaking, “any use of an aircraft in the business of transporting persons or property by air for compensation or hire.”

Who decides about masks on private jets?

The next step is that relevant government agencies and departments, including the Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration, are now tasked with implementation plans. Agencies will next consult with representatives from the government, unions, providers, and consumer groups.

The order states, “The heads of agencies may make categorical or case-by-case exceptions to policies developed under this section, consistent with applicable law, to the extent that doing so is necessary or required by law. If the heads of agencies do make exceptions, they shall require alternative and appropriate safeguards, and shall document all exceptions in writing.”

Agencies are due to provide an update on recommended exemptions as early as Jan. 28.

“Based on what we have seen in the Presidential Executive Order, it’s unclear how this language will be reflected in a final CDC directive that implements these requirements. Most recently, as part of the new COVID testing requirements that take effect on January 26, we saw specific inclusion of general aviation operations,” Douglas Carr, NBAA’s Vice President, Regulatory & International Affairs, tells Private Jet Card Comparisons.

He adds, “At this point, it is also unclear if other portions of aviation infrastructure, including FBOs, would be covered by additional CDC action.”

In terms of timing, he said he expects it could be as much as a month before seeing any final actions.

An executive from a large leading charter and jet card operators says the company will be ready with a communications plan if necessary.

She notes, “There are some differences between the two types of operations in that we require completion of health questionnaires 48 hours ahead of travel and day of travel at the aircraft for each traveler, and a significant percentage of (Part)135 travelers are either in close personal relationships with the other travelers on the aircraft and or have ensured they have tested in advance to meet state or country requirements.”

Private jet mask penalties?

While domestic airlines have had mask mandates for months, so long as passengers weren’t in violation of local laws and didn’t interfere with flight crews, the typical retribution was for the carrier to ban that individual from future flights on that airline.

If the masking requirements extend to either private jet terminals or charter and jet card flights, there could be significant financial penalties. Passengers who disobey crew member instructions can face fines up to $35,000 per incidence.

In December, the FAA proposed fines of $15,000 and $7,500 in two separate incidents that involved disputes about wearing face masks.

Should the mask mandate extend to Part 135 operations, there is a myriad of uncomfortable situations that could occur, putting business aviation pilots and flight attendants in the position of having to enforce the order or possibly expose themselves to penalties.

Another executive did note, “(If there’s not an exemption) I don’t see this being a problem. Most private jets don’t have flight attendants, and the pilots aren’t coming back into the cabin during the flight. One hopes that passengers comply, and that would be the expectation.”

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