Aviation law is comprised of the laws and rules relating to air travel, air safety and the general use of airspace. In Australia, air navigation and air safety is overseen and regulated by two agencies, Airservices Australia and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

CASA is the primary authority for licensing pilots, registering aircraft and regulating the use of airspace, including those uses forming part of some further space-based activity. Space activities that will be most heavily regulated by CASA include:

  • Commercial space travel;
  • the use of hybrid aerospace vehicles that may be characterised as unmanned aircraft, as well as remotely piloted aircraft; and
  • the operation of a high power rocket.

    What constitutes unruly behaviour

    The definition of a disruptive passenger is laid down in Annex 17 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Chicago Convention. This Convention on International Civil Aviation Security Safeguarding International Civil Aviation Against Acts of Unlawful Interference defines an “unruly passenger” as a passenger, who does not respect the rules of conduct at the airport or on-board a flight or fails to follow the instructions issued by the airport staff or crew members. Owing to this behaviour, such a passenger disturbs the good order and discipline at an airport or on-board an aircraft. A similar definition has been adopted by the Indian law under Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 3- Air Transport Series, Series M, Part VI, Issue II, 2017.

    Types of acts

    A disruptive passenger is someone who by their actions or stated intentions jeopardizes or might jeopardize the safety of the aircraft, persons aboard it, or property therein. The International Air Transport Association (IATA)has promulgated a ‘non-exhaustive’ list of behaviour which counts as unruly or disruptive. The list mentions the following acts:

    • Illegally consuming narcotics,
    • Smoking cigarettes in the aircraft,
    • Consuming excessive alcohol,
    • Refusing to comply with safety instructions,
    • Verbal or physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers,
    • Sexual harassment/abuse,
    • Making threats towards the crew or other passengers, and
    • Other types of reckless behaviour, including screaming, banging head on the seatbacks, etc.

    The prominent factors responsible for such behaviour are alcohol, smoking and violent behaviour. The International Air Transport Association released statistics in 2017 stating that unruly passenger incidents occurred at a rate of one incident every 1,053 flights. These incidents have a disproportionate impact on the economic costs incurred.

    International Air Transport Association (IATA)

    IATA is a private organisation consisting of members from nearly 120 countries. The aim of this organisation is working for the promotion of the interest of various airlines. Pursuant to this, IATA has devised several guidelines and recommended practices that have over time become the standard operating procedure for airlines dealing with unruly passengers.

    IATA has recommended that every member should develop a company policy to deal with disruptive passengers. Further, it has also formulated a basic guide to deal with unruly passengers. The IATA Guidance on Unruly Passenger Prevention and Management, 2015 provides numerous ways on how airlines can deal with unruly passengers. This guide also recommends airlines to enforce their respective alcohol policy so that troublemaking passengers are identified at the outset.

    International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

    The International Civil Aviation Organization is an agency of the United Nations which was established in 1944 with the purpose of managing the administration and governance of the Chicago Convention, that is, the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The organisation currently has approximately 193 member-States. The ICAO has also issued guidelines regarding handling of unruly passengers.

  • International laws

    Tokyo Convention, 1963

    The first-ever attempt at framing international legislation for governing offences and certain other acts committed on board an aircraft was the Tokyo Convention, 1963. This legal framework has been ratified by 186 countries. It is not surprising that legislation which was conceived over 50 years ago does not entirely meet the requirements of modern air travel. Nevertheless, it is still the main reference point for airlines handling incidents which involve unruly and disruptive passengers.

    Scope of the Convention

    Article 1 of the Convention talks about the applicability of this law. The provisions of this Convention are applicable in cases wherein the conduct complained of is either:

    1. An offence under any applicable penal law or criminal code; or
    2. It is an act which falls short of criminal conduct but is capable of jeopardizing the safety of the aircraft or the passengers. It could also affect the general good order and discipline as well as the overall safety.

    Therefore, according to the Tokyo Convention, it is not essential that such disruptive behaviour meets the threshold of criminal conduct. The mere possibility of an act which is capable of jeopardising safety and security is sufficient.


    One of the most problematic provisions of the Tokyo Convention is concerning the jurisdiction. The rules as to which State can exercise jurisdiction over offences and disruptive acts committed on board an aircraft are perplexing. Article 3 of the Conventiondiscusses the issue of jurisdiction. It can be summarised as follows:

    1. The state, wherein, the aircraft is registered will have jurisdiction over the offences and other disruptive acts committed on board.
    2. A contracting state which is not the state of registration can only assert jurisdiction in the following cases as per Article 4 of the Convention:
    • If the offence has an impact on the territory of such state;
    • If the offence has been committed by or against a national of that state;
    • If the offence is against state security;
    • If the offence leads to breach of any rules or regulations concerning the flight or the manoeuvre of such aircraft in force in the State; or
    • If it is essential to exercise such jurisdiction to ensure the observance of any obligation imposed on such State under a multilateral international agreement.

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