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Over the 2022-2023 Christmas and school holiday travel period, the Australian Federal Police charged over 49 travellers in a range of incidents at nine of Australia’s major airports.

The operation, coined Operation Sleigh, was formed to target offensive and disruptive behaviour occurring both in the air and on the ground.

The 49 travellers were charged with 69 offences including assault, drug possession and weapons offences.

A further 24 people were issued infringement notices for offensive and disorderly behaviour, intoxication and failing to comply with directions from airline staff.

This includes a 41-year-old Australian man who allegedly consumed 700mls of duty-free scotch on an international flight from New Zealand to Sydney on 9 January 2023.

The man lost consciousness on the flight and once awoken is reported to have become verbally abusive to airplane upon landing.

The police organised for the man to be taken to hospital for medical attention.

Another incident responded to during the Operation included an elderly woman who allegedly struck another passenger in the face in the midst of an argument aboard an aircraft.

The 78-year-old woman is also accused of biting the arm of a flight attendant who sought to break up the fight, on the flight from New Zealand to the Gold Coast on 29 January 2023.

The woman is set to appear before court on 3 April 2023.

A 42-year-old NSW woman is also scheduled to appear before Southport Magistrates’ Court on 20 March 2023 due to a charge of disorderly conduct.

Officers intervened after the woman is alleged to have refused to leave a Melbourne-bound flight from the Gold Coast due to intoxication.

They attempted to persuade the woman to leave aircraft, however she continued to refuse, and was subsequently arrested and removed.

The Operation arose due to how the AFP responded to about 20,000 incidents at protected airports across Australia in 2022.

In the yearly period, the AFP charged more than 360 people with about 520 offences.

AFP Commander, Geoff Turner noted how: “most people do the right thing, and they should not have their travel disrupted or feel unsafe because of the minority’s bad behaviour.

“We again remind the public that airports are not nightclubs. We have zero tolerance for abusive and aggressive behaviour at airports and on aircraft.” 

Committing an Offence in an Aircraft in New South Wales

In Australia, offences committed on an aircraft including towards other passengers or crew members are criminalised under the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 (Cth).

Offences under this legislation are Commonwealth in nature and are thus applicable across the country.

Section 20A of the Act prescribes that it is an offence to assault, threaten with violence or intimidate a member of the crew of the aircraft, whilst on board.

A maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable.

However, where this interferes with the crew member’s performance of their functions in relation to the aircraft’s operation, or lessens their abilities to perform these duties, a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment is applicable, as per section 21.

It is also an offence to recklessly endanger the safety of an aircraft, with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

This offence will be considered ‘aggravated’ and thus carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment where the act is likely to endanger a person’s life or cause serious harm to a person.

The Act provides that the aircraft must be a ‘Division 3 aircraft’ which includes an aircraft intended or likely to be engaged in prescribed flights within Australia and internationally.

It also includes Commonwealth aircrafts, defence aircrafts, and foreign aircrafts that are in Australia, or begun or intended to end their journey in Australia.

AUTHOR Poppy Morandin

Poppy Morandin is the managing law clerk and an integral part of the team of criminal lawyers at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia . She's also a part of CDLA's content article production team. Poppy is passionate about law reform and criminal justice.

View all posts by Poppy Morandin