Puerto Rico Governor asks FAA to stop flights from COVID-19 hotspots

Alex Martinez Rivera is an expert in Puerto Rican political matters as well as aviation. He is explaining why Puerto Rico’s governor cannot act on suspending flights to Puerto Rico because of COVID-19, without involvement with the FAA.

While the intentions of Puerto Rico’s governor might be well-intended. It is a federal matter, which only the President of the United States and FAA Administrator can determine as it is a National Security matter.

When South Beach in Miami was having spring breakers Puerto Rico was one of the first jurisdictions in the United States to take the COVID-19 quarantine approach seriously.

Result: The tourism-dependent island was turned into a San Felipe Fortress (El Morro) for the entire island!

el morro san juan
San Felipe Fortress El Morro, San Juan area. Photo: Unsplash.

Asking the FAA to close the airport wasn’t the first time

This isn’t the first time that the island government has asked the FAA to suspend flights linking the United States.

There were four petitions from Puerto Rico regarding its desired handling of flights during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Suspend flights regardless of origin (domestic and international) to the island for 14 days.
  • In a letter dated March 4, the Puerto Rican government asked the FAA to redirect all charters to three airports on the island: Aguadilla Rafael Hernandez Airport (the old Ramey Air Force Base), Old San Juan General Airport (Isla Grande) Luis Ribas Dominnichi, and the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport.
  • Close the airports where the National Guard isn’t present to do a passenger check-up.
  • Prohibit general aviation flights and “charters” in all of Puerto Rico, except for military, police and ambulance flights.


Thanks to David Begnaud, CBS National Correspondent, we know that the government asked for these petitions during a press conference held on March 18:

The FAA responded on March 26, but only to the petition of redirecting flights:

What has happened after?

This was happening while Puerto Rico’s governor Wanda Vazquez Garced pleaded with the FAA to suspend flights.

According to the local newspaper El Nuevo Dia, the territorial government does not know the protocols on how to report COVID-10 cases.

If we go by the “official statistics” of the Health Department of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico the positive cases consist of 683 positive cases with 33 deaths.

However, not knowing the protocols on reporting COVID-19 cases the official statistics “aren’t so official”.

Why the airport can’t be closed

puerto rico flights covid-19
Approaching San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. Photo: B757 First Officer Johnny.

Let’s be clear on this point, placing my policy cap on:

An airport that receives federal funding can only be closed by the order of the FAA Administrator. The exception is his/her boss: The President of the United States.

FAA Guidelines on COVID-19 restrictions

FAA COVID-19 policy territorial
Click picture for FAA COVID-19 guidelines. Source: FAA.

Furthermore, since airports are considered transportation hubs and critical to the logistics of the just in time delivery system of world commerce it is considered to be of National Security Importance. This is not only a factor for the United States but for overseas governments as well.

Also, airlines worldwide are doing the impossible by reducing flights. As TSA numbers are below 100,000 daily passengers, people are heeding the warnings by federal and local authorities.

TSA Checkpoint Travel Numbers

TSA checkpoint travel numbers for 2019 and 2020.

Bottom Line: The new rounds of suspension amounts to nothing!

While there are well-intentioned measures in regards to social behavior, the airways between the mainland and the territory need to be open at all costs.

This fifth round of suspension simply isn’t happening.

When President Trump closed the United States Airspace to foreigners he couldn’t close the airspace for American citizens. The State Department is currently performing the greatest airlift of repatriation flights in the history of humankind.

Some airlines have already started the process of consolidating and reduce operations which include reduction of flight from several areas in the United States. I’ll explain this in detail in another article.

However, closing the airspace for Americans who want to return to the island is insensitive, arrogant, and inhuman.

Furthermore, I’m not talking as an aviation expert but as a person who understands the need to return home as a person with pre-existent conditions.

There is a meme running on Twitter that I can’t place as I don’t know its original author. I have it here if you want to see it.

A message to the Governor of Puerto Rico

Placing my political hat, if I can give advice to the Governor, it would be to stay on top of your cabinet! At the federal level, you have lost all credibility, and you’re about to lose it with your population. The people are getting fed up with the scandals and corruption on the island.

Puerto Rico Governor Press Conference about the failed purchase of rapid test. Scroll to minute 16. Warning: Press Conference in Spanish. Courtesy; El Nuevo Did/YouTube

We could see the same as what happened with her predecessor, which makes her candidacy a wildcard for the territory. Hence the meme.

The aviation community knows what you’re trying to do. We are in our homes during the emergency, but we will never be silent. Stay in your lane and we stay in ours.

How do you feel about the Governor of Puerto Rico’s handling of flights during the COVID-19 crisis? Please send your comments to Alex Martinez Rivera here.

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