This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (state and federal industrial tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Aircraft Offences


In Australia, offences committed on an aircraft, towards passengers or crew members, or directed towards an aircraft are viewed very seriously. Offences relating to air safety are contained in the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991. Under this Act, the definition of an aircraft includes not only commercial aircraft but Commonwealth and defence aircraft. Offences of this nature are Commonwealth offences, that is, they are consistent throughout the states and territories of Australia and will be prosecuted by the Commonwealth DPP. It is indicative of how seriously these matters are treated by Parliament that many of them are strictly indictable offences. That means, they must be finalised in the District or Supreme Courts.

Aircraft offences: Assaulting crew

In Australia, the offence of assaulting crew members on an air vessel carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment. If the assault committed affects that crew member’s performance of their duties on board, then the maximum penalty rises to twenty years.

The offence of assaulting crew is set out in section 20A of the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 which states: “A person commits an offence if:

  • (a) the person is on board an aircraft; and
  • (b) the Aircraft is a Division 3 aircraft; and
  • (c) the person assaults, threatens with violence or intimidates another person; and the other person is a member of the crew of the aircraft.”

The aggravated offence is contained in section 21 of the same Act, which states that the person must not do the above “in a manner that results in:

  • (a) an interference with the member’s performance of functions or duties connected with the operation of the aircraft; or
  • (b) a lessening of the member’s ability to perform those functions or duties.”

What Actions Might Constitute “Assaulting Crew?”

  1. Section 3 of the same Act defines a Division 3 aircraft. It includes aircrafts that are intended or likely to be engaged in prescribed flights, within Australia and internationally. It also includes Commonwealth aircraft, defence aircrafts and foreign aircraft in Australia or intended to end their journey in Australia.
  2. The slightest touch may constitute assault, however, Police would usually not charge a person unless there is a significant degree of force applied or threats of violence.
  3. Assault covers punching, hitting and kicking, as well as threatening to hurt another person. Spitting is another form of assault and is treated very seriously.

Aircraft offences: Dangerous goods

In Australia, the offence of possessing dangerous goods on an aircraft carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. If the goods possessed are likely to endanger a person’s life or cause serious harm, then the maximum penalty rises to fourteen years imprisonment.

The offence of ‘dangerous goods’ is contained in section 23 of the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 which states: “a person must not: “A person commits an offence if:

  • (a) carry or place dangerous goods on board a Division 3 aircraft;
  • (b) deliver dangerous goods to anyone else with the intention of placing the goods on board such an aircraft;
  • (c) have dangerous goods in his or her possession on board such an aircraft.”

The aggravated offence is contained in section 23A of the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 which states that an offence is committed if a person does the above actions and “the act constituting the offence is likely to endanger a person’s life or cause serious harm to a person.”

What Actions Might Constitute “Possessing Dangerous Goods”

  1. Section 3 of the same Act defines a Division 3 aircraft. It includes aircraft that are intended or likely to be engaged in prescribed flights, within Australia and internationally. It also includes Commonwealth aircraft, defence aircraft and foreign aircraft in Australia or intended to end their journey in Australia.
  2. The actions which give rise to this section is drafted very broadly. Essentially, it will cover anyone who brings such items onto an aircraft, or causes, at some point along the line, the item to be within the aircraft.
  3. A ‘dangerous good’ is defined in Section 3 of the same act. It contains two categories of items:
    1. Firearms, ammunition, weapons and explosive substances; and
    2. Any substance or thing that may endanger the safety of an aircraft or of people on board an aircraft because of its nature and/or condition.
  4. Most airport or aircraft carrier websites now contain detailed information as to what they consider a dangerous good. These lists are non-exhaustive but include items such as: aerosols, camping stoves, liquid fuel containers, carbon dioxide, e-Cigarettes, electronic devices powered by batteries.

Possible Defences For Possessing Dangerous Goods

Section 23(2) provides for possible defences to these sections. It is a defence if:-

  1. The owner or operator of the aircraft had given consent. That consent must be given when the owner or operator had full knowledge of the nature of the goods.
  2. Permission is previously granted pursuant to the Air Navigation Act 1920, Aviation Transport Security Act 2004or Civil Aviation Act 1988 or their corresponding regulations.
  3. If the aircraft is a Commonwealth aircraft, the person doing the act: is a person appointed under the Public Service Act 1999; an officer under the authority of the Commonwealth; or a person acting in accordance with instructions of such an officer or person, and that person is acting in the performance of his or her duties.
  4. If the aircraft is a defence aircraft, the person doing the act is a member of the Defence Force or a person acting in accordance with the instructions of such a member, and that person is acting in the performance of his or her duties.

Aircraft offences: Endangering safety of aircraft

In Australia, the offence of endangering the safety of an aircraft carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. If the action committed is likely to endanger a person’s life or cause serious harm, then the maximum penalty rises to fourteen years imprisonment.

The offence of ‘endangering the safety of aircraft’ is contained in section 22 of the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 which states: “a person who, while onboard a Division 3 aircraft does an act, reckless as to whether the act will endanger the safety of the aircraft, is guilty of an offence.”

The aggravated offence is contained in section 22A of the same act which states that an offence is committed if a person does the above and “the act constituting the offence is likely to endanger a person’s life or cause serious harm to a person.”

What Actions Might Constitute ‘Endangering The Safety Of Aircraft’?

  1. Section 3 of the same act defines a Division 3 aircraft. It includes aircrafts that are intended or likely to be engaged in prescribed flights, within Australia and internationally. It also includes Commonwealth aircrafts, defence aircrafts and foreign aircrafts in Australia or intended to end their journey in Australia.
  2. A person can be considered to have performed an act ‘recklessly’ if they entertained the possibility that some kind of injury or harm would occur as a result of their actions. It does not need to be the specific injury or harm that eventuated.
  3. These sections are very broadly drafted and only requires ‘an act’ that would endanger the safety of the aircraft. This will cover any act, for example, assaulting crew members or passengers, distracting crew members or making a scene would be sufficient to fulfil this element.
  4. There is no requirement for that act to have actually endangered the safety of the aircraft, as long as it was reasonably possible to have endangered the safety of the aircraft.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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