Philadelphia International Airport has lost its “approved” status for watering and aircraft servicing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in an Aug. 9 warning letter to airport executive Mark Gale.

In the warning letter, FDA put Philadelphia International Airport on “provisional” status, giving it 30 days to either regain approved status or face being listed as “non-approved” for carrier use.  In the worst case scenario, being non-approved could shut down all or part of one of the East Coast’s second-tier airports.

“We note that land and air conveyances engaged in interstate traffic must obtain  potable water for drinking and culinary purposes from watering points approved by FDA (21 CFR 1240.80) and must use serving areas approved by FDA (21 CFR 1250.60), ” wrote Kirk Sooter, FDA’s Philadelphia district director, in the letter.

Still, there is “no evidence that our water is unsafe,” said Victoria Lupica, spokeswoman for Philadelphia International Airport.  She said the airport and FDA held discussions as late as Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 16) and the airport “wants to clearly emphasize our water supply is clean and safe.”

In the warning letter, Sooter wrote that “all servicing area piping systems, hydrants, taps, faucets, hoses, buckets, and their appurtenances necessary for delivery of drinking and culinary water to a conveyance must be designed, constructed, maintained, and operated in such a manner as to prevent contamination of the water.”

At the water cabinets and dump station, however, FDA said its inspector found:

  • No testable backflow prevention devices in line to any potable water cabinets located outside a specific terminal and gates.

  • No backflow prevention device dedicated to each portable water cabinet located at a specific terminal near certain gates.


No backflow prevention device between the hose used to wash down the floor in the lavatory dump station or the hose used to rinse out the interior of the lavatory carts and the hand-wash sink in either lavatory dump station.

  • No annual testing performed to reduce the pressure zone assembly device on the pipe that supplies portable water cabinets for use by commercial aircraft.

FDA said that  “to comply with 21 CFR 1250.70(a), adequate toilet, washroom, locker, and other essential sanitary facilities must be readily accessible for use by employees and adjacent to places or areas where land and air conveyances are serviced, maintained, and cleaned. These facilities shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition at all times.”

“However, our investigator observed the following conditions in the lavatory dump stations, which house triturators on the …. sides of the airport: no warm running water at the lavatory sink, no soap for hand washing, and no paper towels.”


The warning letter also said “servicing areas and at stations where land and air conveyances are occupied by passengers the operations shall be so conducted as to avoid contamination of such areas and stations by human wastes.” 

“However, ” FDA said, “the grate identified as used to cover the triturator was clogged with soiled toilet paper waste and was leaning against the exterior of the lavatory dump station near Terminal (b)(4). Additional grating around the triturator in the lavatory dump station near Terminal (b)(4) also had toilet paper collecting on it. Further, toilet paper was observed on the floor of the lavatory dump station.”

Lupica said the airport has already corrected eight out of 11 “observations” that the FDA cited.

“We anticipate completing the final three observations within the next twenty days, ” she said.  “The Airport is in compliance with the all applicable plumbing codes.  However the FDA has mandated additional equipment be installed at the Airport.


“There is absolutely no evidence that the observations cited in the letter pose any type of concern to the public at the Airport.  We will continue to work with the FDA to ensure our facility is in complete compliance.”

The conditions reported in the letter have been a concern since the airport underwent a comprehensive inspection under the Public Health Service Act from last May 2 to 27.

The PHS Act exists to prevent the introduction, or spread of communicable diseases.

The 66-year old Philadelphia International Airport has recently been spending billions in runway expansions, but updates to its terminal facilities have been less of a priority.

Any plans for construction or major reconstruction of sanitation facilities at airport service areas require FDA’s review and the agency says no construction plans for the facilities have been submitted  to it by the Philadelphia Airport.

FDA says the airport did respond to the inspection in a June 24 letter, but it provided no documentation or corrective actions.  FDA plans to decide whether any steps the airport has taken are during the inspection coming at the end of the 30-day period.