Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have threatened to recommend the Trump administration ground planes in the United States if airlines fail to start collecting new forms of data on passengers to assess their coronavirus risk, CNN reports.
[READ THE 2020 FEDERAL REGISTER: PDF LINK]
In a report on the phone calls between the government officials and airline executives, CNN says "CDC officials made a point of telling the airlines about $250,000 fines they would have to pay if they do not start complying by mid-March."
The Federal Register listing that sets out the new requirements also specifies that penalties may include criminal charges and up to a year in jail.
In a series of contentious conversations, agency officials and aviation executives have clashed over the administration's demand that airlines collect new kinds of data from passengers to help officials track potential virus carriers.
Airlines say they can't meet that demand right away — a claim some administration officials say they don't believe, according to several sources who tell CNN the calls have deteriorated so badly that agency officials have issued threats, spat expletives and accused airline executives of lying. It is an "epic battle," said one source familiar with the talks.
On one call, an administration official pointed to potential fines if the airlines didn't comply, according to two sources. The Federal Register, where proposed rules are published, laid out the new requirements for added data collection and listed penalties that include fines as high as $500,000 as well as jail time of up to a year.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have even threatened recommending that the administration try to ground planes in the US if they can't get the passenger data, according to one source.
What kind of data? In a series of calls, Trump officials reportedly told airline executives that the arilines have to comply with a federal directive to ask travelers if they had been to China within the past 48 hours.
CDC had originally wanted passengers to answer 22 different points of information, but later limited the it to five questions about passengers' contact info, with a focus on recent visits to China, Italy and South Korea.
Aviation executives said they don't have the technology to do that digitally, explaining it would take six months to make the necessary technical fixes. They could, however, use paper, they said. An official from the Centers for Disease Control accused the airlines of lying, according to two of the sources, and of not stepping up to the plate, leaving the industry executives reeling in shock.
The blowups between administration officials and the airlines have continued, occurring more recently over the requirement that airlines to collect more passenger and crew data than they normally would, including email addresses, phone numbers and addresses to help track potential coronavirus carriers.
Airlines are having trouble with this new requirement for technical reasons as well as privacy issues, more so in Europe.
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