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FAA chief Steve Dickson sees ‘disturbing increase’ in flight disruptions

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration told CNBC on Thursday that there has been a disturbing increase in disruption to commercial flights in recent days, prompting the regulator to issue a stricter enforcement policy.

“Indeed, over the last few days, we have seen an increasing distribution of incidents on board, with air passengers disrupting flights with their behavior,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told Squawk on the Street.

He said the episodes stemmed in part from leaflets that did not comply with face-mask policies that have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic, and also in the wake of the deadly, pro-Trump uprising at the US Capitol last week.

The FAA̵

7;s new enforcement policy comes as airlines and airports improve security ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.

For example, American Airlines’ alcohol service on flights to and from Washington and Baltimore will stop from Saturday to next Thursday. Fort Worth, Texas-based airline also implemented this suspension after last week’s Capitol uprising.

Delta Air Lines does not allow passengers flying to airports serving Washington to control firearms, CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC on Thursday.

Dickson said his new FAA order will temporarily strengthen his long-standing approach to aircraft disruption.

Instead of issuing warnings or advice, the FAA intends to pursue legal action against “any passenger who attacks, threatens, intimidates or interferes with airline crew members”, according to a press release. The order is in place until March 30th.

“I’m telling inspectors, I’m telling my lawyers in the FAA’s top law firm that we need to speed up the collection of facts about all of these [incidents] and we will immediately take enforcement action in appropriate situations, ”Dickson told CNBC.

On Monday in a letter seen by CNBC, two key Democrats in Parliament called on the FAA to crack down on troubled passengers. Lawmakers pointed to media reports of politically motivated disruption in the days after the Capitol was violently seized by supporters of President Donald Trump.

Dickson agreed on the need to protect both flight crews and passengers.

“” Every time we see a trend like this, we have to intervene because traveling with a commercial airline in the United States is the safest form of travel in human history, “he said. I want to make sure it stays that way. “

– CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.

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