“No warnings”: FAA getting tough with passengers who are unruly or won’t wear masks

Citing “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Wednesday it will ratchet up its legal enforcement policies.

“These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol, ” the FAA said in a statement.

The FAA says up to now it has been addressing unruly passenger incidents with warnings, counseling, and civil penalties. (Counseling?)

But effective immediately and through at least March 30, 2021, “the agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.”

That legal enforcement may include fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment.

There have been some scary incidents onboard planes recently. Including on Friday, January 8, two days after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, when an American Airlines pilot threatened to put the plane down “in the middle of Kansas” in response to chanting, unruly passengers.

FAA lifts ban on flights to & from Israel

Simon Schwartz


On Wednesday evening – July 23 – the Federal Aviation Administration lifted the restrictions it had placed on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. The announcement was effected as of 11:45 PM EDT.

Technically that means U.S. airlines could resume their flights to and from Israel on Thursday, but each airline is now free to make the decision to fly on their own.

Given that the travel advisory Delta posted regarding the unrest in Israel says flights to Ben Gurion International Airport are suspended “until further notice” and both United and US Airways have travel advisories offering a wide window for no-fee changes, it’s possible that one or more of these airlines, as well as many of the international airlines that have announced suspension of service to Israel, will choose to delay resuming flights.

Should they?





Drilling for oil & natural gas at airports

DEN AIRPORT Drilling rig

Courtesy Denver International Airport

Like other airports, Pittsburgh International supplements its revenue from airlines with fees from parking, concessions, advertising and other sources.

But now that the FAA has given its approval,  PIT can add funds from oil and gas drilling to its income ledger .

The airport has a deal with Consol Energy that came with a $50 million signing bonus and the promise of payments and royalties of an estimated $25 million annually for at least the next 20 years.

“Other airports have other advantages. They may have better flight patterns or be close to major markets,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “But we have this natural gas that others may not have.”

Federal Aviation Administration rules restrict how airports can spend drilling dollars and other non-aeronautical revenue.

“So we can’t take this new money and put it into the jail or the court system or the park system,” said Fitzgerald. The county is using the cash to reduce landing, terminal and ramp fees paid by airlines. “That makes us more desirable and will help us attract more airlines and more flights to our airport,” he said.

Pittsburgh International isn’t the first airport to dig deep in the ground for extra revenue. Drilling contracts generate cash for Dallas/Fort Worth, said DFW spokesman David Magaña.

DFW received a $186 million bonus from Chesapeake Energy for a natural gas exploration lease signed in 2006.

“We had plans for as many as 300 wells on airport grounds,” Magaña said, “but we stopped at 112 in 2010 because of the drop of natural gas prices in the market.”

In 2008, when drilling began, DFW earned $33.9 million in royalty revenue. In 2013 royalties were $5.3 million.

“We certainly earn more money from other things,” said Magaña. “For example, we probably earn about $120 million a year on parking. But the gas revenues are a bonus that allows us to do things we wouldn’t have done.”

Early on, DFW used drilling income to make terminal improvements that customers would “notice and appreciate,” said Magaña. That included replacing all seating and flight monitors and updating all the fixtures in the restrooms.

Denver International Airport has 76 wells on its property and in 2012 oil and gas production generated over $6.2 million.

“That revenue is not a large chunk of our budget,” spokesman Heath Montgomery said. “For comparison, last year we saw record concession revenue of about $295 million. But oil and gas production is a way of generating non-airline revenue to help offset the airlines’ cost of operating so the airport can remain globally competitive.”

In Denver, Suncor buys the oil and Anadarko buys the natural gas while the airport owns the wells and manages the overall system.

With three Reserve Oil & Gas gas wells that began producing in November 2013, 790-acre Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va., isn’t in the same league, drilling-wise, as Dallas and Denver.

“We expect a steady $40,000 a year in royalties over a 40-year period, said Yeager Airport director Rick Atkinson, “but for a budget of our size that’s nothing to sneeze at.”

Atkinson said the funds can’t be used “to remodel the director’s suite to look like I’m an oil baron,” but the additional revenue stream will enable the airport to do small additional projects each year.

To get permission, the FAA must determine that under the National Environmental Protection Act, the wells would have no significant impact on the environment, Atkinson said. The other divisions of the FAA approve the wells from an air-space and air-traffic-control aspect and for impacts on future aviation developments at the airport, he said.

Oklahoma City Airport oil drilling

courtesy World Rogers World Airport

In Oklahoma City, three airports—Will Rogers World Airport and two general aviation/corporate airports—together have 87 active wells, generating more than $2.5 million in revenue in 2013, about 2.5 percent of the revenue for the city’s Department of Airports.

Several oil rigs—some of them pumping—can be seen by passengers from the airfield.

“They’re not just there for decoration,” said airport spokeswoman Karen Carney.

Tulsa International Airport doesn’t have any wells but it does have a 13-foot-tall, 56-foot-wide mural by Delbert Jackson titled “Panorama of Petroleum.”

The city of Tulsa doesn’t allow drilling within city limits, so instead, “we celebrate the region’s position as a leader in the energy sector by displaying the mural—which was once displayed in the Smithsonian Institution—in our terminal,” airport spokeswoman Alexis Higgins said.

(My story about drilling for oil and natural gas at airports first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)


More on FAA proposed fines for Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air

Maybe it was a wing and a prayer…

Today the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a proposed civil penalty of $210,000 against Alaska Airlines for allegedly failing to properly document and tag deactivated systems and equipment before making repairs.

At the same time, the FAA announced a proposed $445,125 civil penalty against Alaska’s regional partner, Horizon Air, for allegedly operating a Bombardier Dash-8-400 aircraft on 45 flights when it was not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.


Alaska and Horizon have 30 days to respond to the FAA’s enforcement letter and today Alaska Airlines spokesperson Bobbie Egan said the airlines are working with the FAA to respond to the proposed penalties. She also shared these details about the cited incidents.

Alaska Airlines:

According to the FAA, Alaska Airlines did not properly document when the approved alternate procedure was used for making the aircraft safe, for instance while replacing a landing light.

These procedures are used during ground maintenance and were performed 10 times on six airplanes. In these instances, Alaska performed the required maintenance work according to the aircraft manufacturer’s specifications; however, we did not properly document the alternate procedure. The maintenance was performed during ground operational checks and at no time were passengers or employees in danger.

Since receiving the letter of investigation, Alaska has implemented a number of changes to ensure compliance, including revising the maintenance manual, implementing a new training program for aircraft technicians and performing routine compliance audits.

Horizon Air

According to the FAA, Horizon did not properly document compliance with an Airworthiness Directive in March 2011 while inspecting an aircraft fitting on one of the engine coverings, which is called a nacelle. Horizon performed the required inspection, however, we did not properly document our maintenance due to a misunderstanding over wording on the work order. (The fitting was located on a spar that attaches to the nacelle.)

The aircraft was immediately removed from service the day after the inspection when we realized we had incorrectly documented the work. The aircraft was re-inspected and found to be in proper order. Horizon has improved its work order for this engine fitting inspection to prevent a misunderstanding in the future.

FAA regulations require inspection of the engine nacelle fittings every 300 flight hours. Horizon is replacing the fittings with an improved part that does not require recurring inspections.

I’m no mechanic, but I do fly a lot, so whether the fines are warranted or not, I ‘m glad to know attention is being paid to everyone’s safety.

NY-area airports want to fine unruly passengers for flight delays

Here’s an intriguing idea: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, LaGuardia and Newark International airports, wants to sue unruly passengers who cause major flight delays.  This is the story I wrote Monday for msnbc.com.


Unruly airline passengers at any of the three New York area airports (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty) may soon have to go to court and pay for the cost of delaying a flight.

“On a regular basis we’re having issues where planes have to come back to the gate because of disruptive passengers,” said Steve Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports. “We’re looking to cut down on the number of incidents that require police response and reduce the amount of time and money airlines lose because of these incidents.”

Coleman said the airport authority is embarking on a campaign that will include the use of social media, posted signs and other methods to strongly remind passengers to behave and follow the instruction of airline crewmembers.

“Our lawyers are also looking at ways we can take civil action against the most egregious cases,” said Coleman.

The cost per hour to operate a U.S. passenger airline is $5,867, according to Airlines for America (A4A), the airline trade association. “So any delay represents a real cost to an airline’s bottom line,” said A4A spokesperson Steve Lott. If the new policy is enacted, the Port Authority might sue passengers responsible for a delay to pay for the related costs.

In 2011, there were 1.3 million flights at the New York area airports and Port Authority and police responded to close to 400 incidents involving disruptive airline passengers. “Most of those were due to people who wouldn’t turn off their electronic devices, which is a federal law,” said Coleman. Many other incidents were related to smoking and passenger disputes.

“And it’s not just a New York thing,” said Coleman. “This resonates with airports across the country.”

Research conducted by the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) shows that passengers often blame the airport for airline-related delays. “So, certainly the discussion the Port Authority is having is likely to prompt other airports to think about this,” said Debby McElroy, ACI-NA’s executive vice president, policy and external affairs.

The incidents-to-flights ratio at the New York area airports and elsewhere “is actually quite low, but any effort that helps enforce the message of what the laws are will help,” said A4A’s Lott.

Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, said he applauds efforts to reduce airline delays, but it seems somewhat unfair to single out airline passengers for systemwide problems. “There can be numerous reasons why passengers might be responsible for delayed flights, including what happened two weeks ago when a family was escorted off the plane because their daughter wouldn’t stop crying.”

Passengers who interfere with the duties of a crewmember and engage in unruly behavior can be fined by the FAA or prosecuted on criminal charges. Reporting incidents to the FAA is at the discretion of crewmembers, and in 2011, as of October, the agency had taken action on 127 incidents nationwide.

“The Port Authority has not contacted the FAA. So we are unaware of their plans,” said FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette. “The bottom line is that people should know if they behave badly on an airplane they can go to jail or be fined.”

What do you think? Should airports be able to levy fines on unruly passengers who cause airplanes to return to the gate?