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FAA increases penalties for unruly airline passengers after Capitol siege

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order Wednesday to increase penalties for unruly and violent airline passengers. Pool Photo by Brendan Smialowski/UPI
Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order Wednesday to increase penalties for unruly and violent airline passengers. Pool Photo by Brendan Smialowski/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday it will be imposing stricter penalties against unruly and combative airline passengers after last week's siege on the U.S. Capitol building.

Steve Dickson, the FAA administrator, signed an order Wednesday for "a special emphasis enforcement program" to bring civil legal enforcement of fines of up to $35,000 and possible addition to the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list for "passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of a crewmember's duties" following an increase of such behavior directed at staff.

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The agency historically would issue warnings and counseling but due to the increase in unruly behavior it has abandoned that practice for civil penalties under the new program, which runs until March 30, the FAA said in a statement.

"The FAA has recently observed a proliferation of such conduct, including conduct stemming from failure to wear masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic-related health measures in place on board aircraft or conduct following the Jan. 6, 2021, violence on the U.S. Capitol," the order states. "This bulletin announces an FAA special emphasis enforcement program to more effectively address and deter such conduct by passengers."

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On Tuesday, FBI Washington Field Office ADIC Steven D'Antuono told reporters that the FBI is considering all tools and that adding those who stormed the Capitol building last week to a no-fly list is "something we're actively looking at."

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. on Tuesday also called for authorities to add those who breached the building to the TSA's no-fly list.

"We cannot allow these same insurrectionists to get on a plane and cause more violence and more damage," he said during a press conference. "These individuals are a threat to the homeland."

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On Monday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and ranking committee member Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., sent a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske calling for a briefing by the end of the week on its efforts to "disrupt the travel of White supremacist and other domestic terrorist groups" and "options available for quickly denying air carrier service to individuals as posing a potential threat."

The FAA said it does not have regulatory authority over aviation security or no-fly lists, but it does work closely with the agencies that do "on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety," it said.

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The FAA has taken more than 1,300 enforcement actions against unruly passengers in the past decade, including having the TSA in December level fines against two airline passengers, one for $15,000 against a passenger who assaulted a flight attendant and the other for $7,000 for interfering with a flight attendant. Both passengers exhibited such behaviors after being instructed to wear masks in August.

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"Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way," Dickson said in a statement.

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