Reauthorization Bill forces FAA to allow organs to fly in commercial cabins again

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WESTWOOD, Kan. – U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.) Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are urging the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration to take steps toward improving the transportation of life-saving organs.

A wall inside the Midwest Transplant Network is filled with photos of donor heroes, who in consultation with their families signed up to be organ donors before their deaths. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing over the last 5 years about 70 organs nationwide procured for transplants didn’t make it in time.

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At Midwest Transplant Network, which covers Kansas and 2/3 of Missouri, hearts, lungs and livers with extremely tight windows for transplant are usually flown on charter flights. But kidneys, which can go up to 24 hours before transplant, often are flown on commercial flights.

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“One of the things that we did prior to 9/11 is we were able to take a kidney packaged perfectly correctly and hand it off to the pilot,” Jan Finn, Midwest Transplant Network President and CEO, said.

But since post 9/11 security changes organs have been classified as cargo- flying under the plane in pressurized cargo holds with checked baggage. According to Rep. Cleaver, as a result, organs have been destroyed, missed connecting flights, and left in cargo after a flight was delayed or cancelled.

“Time is very critical when we are thinking about transplanting this organ so there have been mishaps,” Finn said.

Finn supports a letter co-authored by Cleaver to the Secretary of Transportation urging Pete Buttigieg to follow a section of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024. It gives the FAA 90 days to convene a work group to develop best practices for transporting organs in the cabin of commercial aircraft. The bill was signed May 16, 2024.

“Organ donation is one of the greatest gifts one can leave when they depart from this world—and it’s imperative that every organ provided is treated with the care and respect worthy of such a life-saving donation,” Cleaver said.

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“We’re grateful for Rep. Cleaver for really championing this and working well with Congress and the President to sign this in to order,” Finn said.

As they continue to try to improve organ transportation over longer distances there’s also been some experimentation nationwide for closer organ donations to be transported via drone. But so far that’s not common practice.

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