FAA will maintain ‘zero tolerance’ policy for unruly passengers, outgoing chief says

Federal Aviation Administration Chief Steve Dickson said Friday that the agency’s “zero tolerance” policy toward unruly passengers would continue, even though reports of misbehavior declined from the year’s record high. last.

The FAA established the policy in January 2021 in hopes of stemming a tide of disruptive passengers, threatening fines of up to $35,000 and possible jail time. Flight attendant unions had urged the agency to intervene due to the increase in incidents on board.

“We’ve seen a significant drop in these incidents over the past year, but they continue to occur at too high a rate,” Dickson said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We will keep the zero tolerance policy in place.”

The FAA recorded a record 5,981 reports of unruly passenger behavior last year, with more than 70% of those cases related to passengers who refused to wear masks on board and opened 1,121 investigations. So far this year, it has received 961 reports from disruptive passengers, including 635 related to the mask mandate.

Dickson credited the agency’s public service announcements with helping to reduce instances of such behavior.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson prepares to testify at the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on “Implementation of Aviation Safety Reform” on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

“I even went on TMZ to make sure we reach out to the public and understand that this kind of behavior is not acceptable on airplanes and needs to stop,” he said.

The Biden administration extended the mask mandate until April 18 and has not said whether it will lift the rule then, despite repeated calls from airlines to scrap the rule.

“From an FAA perspective, we don’t take a position on what public health protocols are,” Dickson said.

The mask mandate and pre-departure Covid testing for international travelers “no longer aligns with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,” airline CEOs wrote to President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Dickson resigns on March 31 about halfway through his five-year term. The Biden administration has not named a successor, leaving the agency headless as it grapples with the rapid return of air travel after a two-year pandemic crisis and pending reviews of several Boeing jets.

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