Travel: Is Water on Planes Safe? (cont.)

In the United States, water loaded aboard aircraft comes from public water systems. The water provided by public water systems is regulated by state and federal authorities. That water may be delivered to the aircraft holding tank via piping from the airport itself or a hose from a water tanker.

11. What about international flights?

A significant part of aircraft travel includes international flights. According to the Air Transport Association (ATA), about 90 percent of ATA member aircraft have the potential to travel internationally. These aircraft may board water from foreign sources which are not subject to EPA drinking water standards. 

12. Who regulates water on passenger airplanes in the United States?

In the United States, drinking water safety on airlines is jointly regulated by the EPA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). EPA regulates the parent systems that supply water to the airports and the drinking water once it is on board the aircraft. FDA has jurisdiction over culinary water (e.g., ice) and the points where aircraft obtain water (e.g., pipes or tankers) at the airport. FAA requires airline companies submit operation and maintenance plans for all parts of the aircraft, including the potable water system. 

13. What is the airlines' role in ensuring safe water on aircraft?

The regulatory structure for all public water systems, including aircraft, relies upon self-monitoring and reporting of results to the primary agency. The primary agency for aircraft public water systems is EPA. 

14. How is water currently regulated on passenger airplanes?

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulates water quality in public water systems. Water Supply Guidance 29 was issued in 1986 in an effort to tailor SDWA requirements to address the unique characteristics of Interstate Commerce Carriers, such as aircraft. Under the guidance, ICC operators had been allowed to substitute an operations and maintenance plan for regular monitoring of the vehicle's water system if it was approved by EPA. At this time, EPA is no longer accepting operation and maintenance plans as the ICC program is being revised.

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Last updated on Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Last Editorial Review: 11/5/2007