FDA Inspecting Airplanes & Airlines?

I love air travel and airplanes — all types of airplanes, including propeller-driven planes. While they are noisy and bumpy, they are also romantic and cause me to imagine that I’m experiencing the early days of air travel. Unfortunately, the last major U.S. airline (American Airlines) just flew its last propeller-driven flight: an era is over.

Putting my romanticism and imagination aside, there are a lot of federal agencies that regulate airplanes, airlines, and air travel (because nothing kills the imagination and romantic thoughts like federal regulations).

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

FDA is also on this list as it regulates airplanes and airlines too (big surprise given the blog’s theme).

FDA’s primary authority to regulate airplanes and airlines does not come from its namesake statute (the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act), but a lesser known law: Public Health Service Act. Among other things, this statute allows for creating regulations that “are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.” 42 U.S.C. 264(a).

With that grant, FDA established regulations for “interstate conveyance sanitation,” which appear in 21 C.F.R. 1250.  These regulations establish requirements for food service sanitation and equipment on the planes, and also the service area for the airplanes. Beyond ensuring good sanitary practices, FDA certifies each plane is designed and constructed appropriately to meet this sanitary goal. Then the plane must post its Certificate of Sanitary Construction.

Certificate of Sanitary Construction
A very poor photocopy from FDA’s old print manual, which then FDA added to its website.

Based on these requirements, FDA sends inspectors to places such as the Boeing and Airbus plants, and also Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and other airlines operations, which you can see on FDA’s website.  Failure to comply with these requirements could result in possible enforcement action, as reflected in a 2016 Warning Letter. These requirements, like the Certificate of Sanitary Construction, also make their way into purchase agreements for airplanes, such as this one between Boeing and American Airlines to buy Boeing 777.

While the propeller plane may be no more, FDA will continue on as player in the commercial passenger airline industry while it seeks “to prevent foodborne illness, and the introduction or spread of communicable disease.”

Now if FDA could only do something about the passenger in seat B3, who definitely has a cold …


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