Who is in Charge of a Crime Committed in an Airplane?

Who is in Charge of a Crime Committed in an Airplane?

Without doubt the invention of the plane has been one of the most important devices of mankind. Since the Wright brothers’ attempts to flight in 1903 to much has happened in the history of aviation. Under the turbulent times our modern and globalized society is facing every day, the aviation laws have been changing and adapting to our continuous evolving civilization. Given the fact that our modern societies are affected by crime, and there are special regulation sand institutions to deal with criminal activities, what can we say when a crime or unruly behaviour is committed in an airplane?

In the period 2007-2014 there were over 38,230 reported cases of unruly passenger incidents on board aircraft in flight. These incidents include violence against crew and other passengers, harassment and failure to follow safety instructions.

Unruly passengers are a very small minority. Incidents on board aircraft in commercial service have become a significant operational issue faced by airlines, flight and cabin crew on a daily basis. These incidents threaten flight safety and security, impact the travel experience of other passengers and lead to significant costs and operational disruption for carriers.

The Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft, commonly called the Tokyo Convention, is an international treaty, concluded at Tokyo on 14 September 1963. It entered into force on 4 December 1969, and as of 2015 has been ratified by 186 parties. However, there are cases where criminal jurisdiction may be exercised by a state other than the State of Registry. These are usually matters that are critical to the safety of the flight as well as national security.

The Convention is applicable to offences against penal law and to any acts jeopardising the safety of persons or property on board civilian aircraft while in-flight and engaged in international air navigation. Coverage includes the commission of or the intention to commit offences and certain other acts on board aircraft registered in a Contracting State in-flight over the high seas and any other areas beyond the territory of any State in addition to the airspace belonging to any Contracting State. Criminal jurisdiction may be exercised by Contracting States other than the State of Registry under limited conditions, viz, when the exercise of jurisdiction is required under multilateral international obligations, in the interest of national security, and so forth.

The Convention requires States Parties to establish penal jurisdiction over offences affecting in-flight safety committed on board its registered aircraft, requiring contracting states to take custody of offenders and to return control of the aircraft to the lawful commander. It also authorizes the aircraft commander to impose reasonable measures, including restraint, on any person he or she has reason to believe has committed or is about to commit such an act, when necessary to protect the safety of the aircraft.

This 50-year-old Convention has served the industry well. However, a Diplomatic Conference was held in 2014 to consider proposed revisions to the Convention to ensure that it is an effective deterrent to unruly behaviour. The result was the Montreal Protocol 2014 which makes important changes to the original Tokyo Convention. The Protocol extends the jurisdiction over offence to the destination country of the flight in addition to the country of aircraft registration. This 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.

This Protocol is good news for everyone who flies – passengers and crew alike. The changes, along with the measures already being taken by airlines, will provide an effective deterrent for unacceptable behaviour on board aircraft.

A total of 22 States will need to ratify the Protocol before it will enter in to force. IATA (International Air Transport Association) has played an important role in the development of the text of the new Protocol since 2009 and we are now advocating for governments to urgently ratify it.

At the 70th IATA AGM in June 2014, the industry unanimously adopted a set of core principles for dealing with the issue of unruly passenger behaviour. The principles call on governments to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014 so they have the legal powers at their disposal to ensure unruly passengers face the appropriate consequences of their actions. Airlines, airports and others must work together to implement the right procedures and train staff to respond effectively to such instances.

Image courtesy of BreakingTravelNews at Flickr.com

By adopting the Montreal Protocol 2014, States have publicly recognised the increased frequency and severity of unruly passenger incidents and the inherent threat to safety, security and good order on board aircraft. The Protocol represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for governments to put in place an international legal instrument which gives them the means to deal with unruly passengers more effectively and to deter future incidents. Therefore, urgent and widespread ratification of the new Protocol is needed. Taken together with measures being implemented by the airline industry, this will lead to a safer and a more pleasant air travel experience for all.


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