The outgoing head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday the agency's "zero tolerance policy" for addressing unruly passengers should remain in place indefinitely.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told reporters the policy first imposed in January 2021 should remain even if the Biden administration decides to lift a mandate requiring masks onboard airplanes.
The Biden administration has extended the transit mask mandate through April 18 and is considering whether it should end or again be continued. The FAA in March 2021 extended the zero tolerance policy and said it would enforce it at least as long as the face mask order remained in effect.
"Regardless of what happens with the mask mandate, I think this is something that we need to keep in place," Dickson said Tuesday.
The FAA said since January 2021, there have been a record 6,900 unruly passenger incidents reported – and 70% involved masking rules - but have declined.
"Once the federal mandate is lifted, I think we can safely assume that those rates will decline further," Dickson said.
The FAA last month said it has referred 80 unruly airplane passengers to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution.
Dickson spoke to Reuters and another media outlet Tuesday just days before he steps down about halfway through his five-year term as FAA chief, discussing a wide range of challenges he has faced in the job.
He praised Boeing's efforts to improve its relationship with the FAA.
"We are demanding more transparency and completeness and rigor out of their processes," Dickson told reporters Tuesday. "[Boeing] will call me if there is anything that they think I am going to be concerned about.
"They are not asking for anything."
Last week, the FAA warned the planemaker may not gain certification of a lengthened version of the 737 MAX ahead of a key safety deadline set by Congress, a source told Reuters.
Only Congress can extend the deadline if the FAA does not certify the 737 MAX 10 before the end of the year. Dickson declined to say if he thinks Boeing can win approval before January.
"Boeing knows what it needs to do and what it needs to provide to us," Dickson said.
Boeing said it shares "an enduring commitment to safety and transparency with the FAA and respect their oversight role as we engage with their team going forward."
Dickson declined to comment on last week's not guilty verdict of a former Boeing test pilot charged with deceiving the FAA during its certification review of the 737 MAX.
Asked if Boeing had been properly held to account for the two 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people, Dickson said: "We hold Boeing accountable everyday as we do ourselves."
Boeing entered into a $2.5 billion deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in January 2021.
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