Airlines call on governments to crack down on inflight offenders

Issues & Trends – April 2014

Airlines call on governments to crack down on inflight offenders

Tony Tyler, IATAFacing 300 reports a week of passengers disrupting flights, IATA is urging governments to close legal loopholes that allow unruly passengers to escape law enforcement for serious offences committed on board aircraft.

The call coincides with the recent highly publicised case of a terrorist scare triggered by a passenger banging on the cockpit door of a Virgin flight to Bali and having to be restrained by flight crew.

In that case, it was not clear at press time if the passenger would be charged with an offence. Indonesian police had handed him over to Australian Federal Police for questioning.

The world airline body is calling on governments to ratify important changes to the Tokyo Convention 1963 which were agreed at a diplomatic conference in Montreal late last month.

The Tokyo Convention provides the legal framework for dealing with passengers whose unruly or disruptive behaviour leads to physical assault or poses a threat to the safety of a flight.

The Tokyo Convention was negotiated in 1963 and it gives jurisdiction over offences committed onboard aircraft to the state of regist-ration of the aircraft. With modern leasing arrangements, the state of aircraft registry is often neither the state in which the aircraft lands nor the state of the operator.

“This limits the practicality of enforcement and consequently the options available to mitigate disruptive behaviours,” IATA said in a statement issued prior to the meeting.

“For this reason, the airline industry supports proposals for jurisdiction to be extended to both the state in which the aircraft lands and the state in which the operator is located.”

The association welcomed the outcome of the Montreal meeting as “good news for everybody who flies—passengers and crew alike”.

According to an IATA statement: “By extending the jurisdiction from the country of aircraft registration to the destination country, the protocol closes a loophole which allowed many serious offences to escape legal action.

“The agreed changes give greater clarity to the definition of unruly behaviour (such as including the
threat of or actual physical assault, or refusal to follow safety-related instructions). There are also new provisions to deal with the recovery of significant costs arising from unruly behaviour.”

The new protocol will come into force when it is ratified by at least 22 states and IATA wants governments to act quickly, stating: “The changes, along with the measures already being taken by airlines, will provide an effective deterrent for unacceptable behaviour on board aircraft”.

Said IATA director general Tony Tyler: “Unruly passengers are a very small minority. But unacceptable behaviour on board an aircraft can have serious consequences for the safety of all on board.

“The goal is to effectively deter such behaviour and ensure safe flights for all by making the consequences of such behaviour clear and enforceable.”

Tyler said passengers expect to enjoy their journey incident-free. And air crews have the right to perform their duties without harassment.

“In addition, the inconvenience to other travellers of a forced diversion is significant,” he said.

“At the moment there are too many examples of people getting away with serious breaches of social norms that jeopardise the safety of flights because local law enforcement authorities do not have the power to take action.”


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