Alcohol and flying update: August 2021

NordAN has been highlighting the issue of drinking and flying since 2012, when the General Assembly adopted a resolution urging the airline companies to ban free alcohol. Since then, we have participated in discussions around unruly passengers, drinking during flights and different legislation around that topic. One of the major step towards safer flying has been the process of Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14).

The problem has been the following, as explained to us by Tim Colehan, Assistant Director External Affairs at the The International Air Transport Association (IATA): “When an aircraft is inflight we can think of it being a piece of mobile sovereignty of the country where it is registered, so if there is an unruly incident onboard, it is the courts, laws and law enforcement of the state of registration that have the jurisdiction to deal with the unruly passenger, which causes an issue when the flight lands at a foreign destination. So MP14 solves that jurisdictional gap allowing the state of landing to deal with the unruly passenger.”

The practical implication of MP14 is that it should help governments fill the legal gaps that allowed perpetrators to avoid prosecution. Tim Colehan: “In practice that should close the jurisdictional gap (which our members tell us is an issue in around 60% of cases not being prosecuted), but it doesn’t mean that every unruly passenger will now be prosecuted (which is down to the prosecuting authorities in each country). This bring us to another major element of enhancing the legal deterrent. In many cases, unruly passengers escape prosecution because it is not seen as in the public interest to do so (court time, evidentiary requirements, etc.). This is often because the offense may not be deemed serious enough to undertake a criminal prosecution. So we are urging governments, particularly in light of the face mask issue, to look again at the range of enforcement measures they have available. In particular, we believe there should be wider consideration of civil and administrative penalties that can be issued on the spot by police or aviation security officials in a similar approach to getting a speeding ticket in a car. These would be used for less serious cases. The International Civil Aviation Organization has produced expanded guidance on this in its Document Manual 10117. We believe this will lead to a much more powerful deterrent. So in simple terms, fix the jurisdictional gap by ratifying MP14 and then review enforcement mechanisms using Manual 10117 as a guide.”

Finland joined the ratifiers of the Montreal Protocol in August 1
The problem with the Montreal Protocol was that the governments, especially in our region, were not quick in ratifying it. It finally came into force on 1 January 2020, after 22 States ratified to trigger it. At the moment the list has 31 States, including several European States (including Finland). “Around 1/5th of global traffic is now covered by States that are party to MP14. I fully expect that number to grow with the UK, UAE and various other States in process, but also because the whole issue of unruly and disruptive passengers is a key focus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The requirement to wear masks onboard are being deliberately flouted (even after crew warnings) by a small minority of passengers. Governments are looking at the issue – for example the number of cases reported to the US Federal Aviation Authority is around 4,000 so far in 2021 and they have implemented a zero tolerance approach with up to five years in prison or $35,000 fines. IATA member have also reported an increasing number of issues. IATA has submitted a working paper to the ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 taking place in October together with the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA) and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) calling for urgent action including the ratification of MP14 and a wider range of enforcement options to enhance the deterrent against such behaviour,” explained Mr Colehan.