(CNN) — Airline passengers are bringing guns to the airport in never-before-seen numbers, and it’s a “big problem,” the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told CNN.
Security and law enforcement officials are simultaneously dealing with an unprecedented surge in unruly passengers who are testing systems designed to keep air travel safe.
“We have had many more incidents where there are passenger disturbances both at the checkpoints and on board the aircraft. That makes it more important that there are no weapons involved,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in an interview. .
The TSA reports that 4,650 firearms were collected at checkpoints during the first 10 months of the year – most of which were loaded. That number surpasses the full-year record of 4,432, set in 2019.
And with 11 weeks remaining in the year – including the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas travel seasons – Pekoske says he believes the number of confiscated guns reflects an increasingly armed American population.
“I think more people are carrying guns, generally across the country, and then whatever is happening across the country we see it reflected at our checkpoints,” he said. “As a passenger, I don’t want another passenger flying with me with a weapon in their possession.”
The agency is also finding weapons at a much faster rate than ever. During the minimum trips made during the pandemic in 2020, security agents seized a weapon in approximately 10 passengers out of 1 million. This year, they are finding 11 armed passengers for every million.
Most of the firearms found were loaded – more than 3,900, or more than 80%.
“No checkpoint, no airport is immune from passengers trying to carry weapons through the checkpoint,” Pekoske said. “It occurs more frequently in states where the carrying of weapons is higher compared to other states.”
The firearms findings by TSA workers create inconvenience for travelers at a time when more people are looking to travel again and when international travel restrictions are loosening. Arms discoveries slow down the control lines and trigger a response from local or airport police. Meanwhile, airline officials are calling on airport police to be proactive in detecting intoxicated or agitated passengers who may cause a disturbance on the flight.
Those unruly passengers are also at levels never seen before.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday that airline aides have reported 4,724 incidents this year, including 98 in the past week. He has opened more than 880 investigations; In a typical year, it conducts about 180 investigations.
Penalties for attempting to pass a firearm through a checkpoint start at around $ 2,500 for an unloaded weapon and go up to $ 10,000 for a loaded weapon. Penalties are higher for subsequent offenses, although Pekoske said offenders rarely repeat offenders.
The agency can also revoke PreCheck membership, local authorities can criminally prosecute, and in the Pittsburgh area, the TSA says the sheriff’s department agreed to revoke gun permits for people attempting to smuggle a gun for a stand. of control.