SINGAPORE - The Singapore police and other legal bodies here will soon have powers to prosecute troublemakers on all flights to Singapore, after the Tokyo Convention (Amendment) Bill was passed on Monday (July 9).
Under current international civil aviation laws - stipulated by the Tokyo Convention - Singapore is able to take action only if the culprit arrives on Singapore Airlines or other Singapore carriers.
As a result, troublemakers on foreign carriers usually escape unaffected.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport, said: "Given the importance of civil aviation to Singapore, it is crucial that we uphold Singapore's reputation as a safe and secure aviation hub for all passengers travelling through Changi Airport."
He added: "Also, as a responsible member of the international civil aviation community, Singapore must do its part to address unruly passenger incidents."
On average, there were about 10 incidents a year, in the last five years, of unruly behaviour on flights to Singapore, Dr Lam said in response to queries from MPs.
Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked if front-line staff on the ground were adequately trained to identify unruly passengers.
Prof Fatimah noted that this is important as the bad behaviour happens not just when airborne. "In fact, in many cases and case studies, it was noted that the negative behaviour commenced even at check-in, at the airport and waiting lounges."
Dr Lam assured the House that airline and other ground staff are well equipped to detect and deal with such cases.
Singapore's initiative to beef up the laws against unruly travellers is part of a global push to deal with a growing problem.
Led by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao), the aim is to replace the Tokyo Convention with the Montreal Protocol 2014.
This will give all member states more teeth to deal with offences such as travellers refusing to comply with safety instructions and physically or verbally abusing cabin crew.
Between 2007 and 2016, more than 58,000 unruly passenger incidents were reported to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
In 2016, there were 9,837 incidents reported, a slight drop from the 10,854 in 2015.
This equates to a rate of one incident report per 1,434 flights in 2016, compared with 1 incident per 1,205 flights in 2015.
Iata assistant director (external affairs) Tim Colehan said that while the number of incidents per 1,000 flights has been reduced, there are still concerns.
For example, there has been an increase in the number of incidents where after all other forms of de-escalation techniques had been exhausted, the cabin crew had no other option but to restrain the unruly passenger.
As air travel grows, the problem of unruly passengers may worsen, he said.
A comprehensive approach is needed to tackle the problem, Mr Colehan said: "We need governments to play their part by enhancing the international legal deterrent.
"But airports, airport restaurants and bars and duty-free providers have a particularly important role to play to ensure the responsible sales, marketing and promotion of alcohol to avoid incidents that involve intoxication that have to be dealt with in the air."
Iata Asia-Pacific spokesman Albert Tjoeng said: "We welcome the steps taken by Singapore to strengthen legislation for deterring unruly passenger behaviour on board flights."