Singapore to toughen laws against unruly air travellers

Move for wider enforcement part of global push to tackle growing problem

TROUBLEMAKERS on Singapore-bound flights will not be let off the hook in the future simply because of a lack of jurisdiction.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has told The Straits Times that they will face the music even if the offences are committed outside the Republic's air space.

As part of a global push to deal with the growing problem of unruly passengers, Singapore will amend its laws to give police and other legal bodies here the authority to charge and prosecute wrongdoers - a process expected to take about two years.

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.

The Montreal Protocol 2014, drafted by the global aviation community last year, aims to plug this gap.

Among the offences it lists is refusing to comply with safety instructions and physically or verbally abusing cabin crew.

A CAAS spokesman said that the new protocol will provide better protection for travellers and air crew.

She said: "The ability to take law enforcement action in such cases would be a strong deterrence against unruly behaviour on board aircraft arriving in Singapore. This would enhance Singapore's status as a safe and secure air hub."

The authority is working with government agencies to ratify the Montreal Protocol, which requires an amendment of current legislation through Parliament.

At least 22 states must ratify the protocol before the stricter laws can be enforced. So far, only Congo has done so.

Mr Tim Colehan, assistant director for member and external relations at the International Air Transport Association, said there has been a rise in unruly behaviour on aircraft in recent years.

In 2013, airlines reported more than 8,000 incidents, or one for every 1,370 flights.

From 2007 to 2013, the average was one per 1,600 flights.

SIA spokesman Nicholas Ionides confirmed an increasing number of such incidents but did not provide figures. He added that flight crew are trained to detect and deal with such cases.

"Some of these methods include politely declining to serve drinks if the crew discern that the passenger has had too much to drink," he said. "In extreme cases where passengers turn physically violent, our crew are also trained to handle them appropriately."

Mr Colehan said: "It is possible that the worsening situation simply reflects societal changes where antisocial behaviour is increasingly prevalent. However, what is deemed acceptable on the ground takes on a completely different complexion in the confined environment of an aircraft cabin at 35,000 feet."

If ratified by enough nations, the Montreal Protocol will also hold the culprit responsible for costs incurred if a plane needs to be diverted to an alternative airport, which could cost anything from US$6,000 (S$8,200) to US$200,000, Mr Colehan said.

He added: "In some cases, unruly behaviour can be detected at check-in or during screening, and this is where ground handlers and security personnel can assist by alerting the airline, so that it can make an informed decision on whether or not to accept the passenger for boarding."

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