Software // Information Management
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12/1/2005
03:11 PM
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Feds Want More Airline Data--This Time To Control Epidemics

CDC proposes creation of passenger database to warn travelers of potential outbreaks. But airlines are worried about the cost and privacy issues.

As if the airline industry didn't have enough to worry about, it may be asked to maintain a passenger database so that federal health officials can warn travelers of potential outbreaks of communicable diseases. The Center for Disease Control proposes requiring airlines to "submit [passenger] lists to CDC upon request" so the center can avoid the frustrations it experienced in trying to alert American travelers potentially exposed to the SARS outbreak in 2003. "We found we were in some cases incapable of contacting people," says a CDC spokeswoman. The proposed regulations have been posted in the Federal Register for public comment over the next 60 days.

The CDC estimates that complying with the regulations would cost the airline industry between $108 million and $386 million a year to build and maintain the needed database, depending on whether data is collected at the time of ticket purchase or at the point of departure, and how far into the nation's network of airports the regulations reach.

Airlines are already bracing for the financial impact and privacy questions that will hit them when the Transportation Security Administration develops an acceptable methodology for transmitting passenger data to the TSA for matching against an FBI terrorist watchlist—a far more controversial undertaking that has met with significant opposition. Airlines are working with their trade group, the Air Transport Association, to devise a plan to minimize the pain of complying with the myriad data-sharing requirements coming from federal agencies. "We need to have a coordinated system," says Katherine Andrus, assistant general counsel of the ATA. "How that happens is something we're working through."

The airlines will provide comment on the CDC proposal, which has been posted in the Federal Register for public comment for 60 days, and the industry will perform its own cost analysis, Andrus says. At least the airlines won't be alone in grappling with whatever regulations emerge. If data is collected at the point of purchase, travel agents would face estimated costs of up to $56 million a year, while a point-of-departure scenario would rack up $39 million in annual costs for cruise lines.

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