Legal Regime Governing Crimes on Board Aircrafts


As one of the greatest inventions, the concept of flying through aircraft have evolved and developed in a significant way. Travelling through air has become one of the most important and efficient means of transport. It is inevitable that crimes exist in all places where humans exist and influence. Crimes exist in places as high as humans could reach – this leads to a new category of crimes: crimes of board aircraft.

The first ever plane hijack was reported in the year 1931[1] that took place in Arequipa, Peru. Following that there were several plane hijacks reported throughout the globe. This was just an example of crimes that could be committed on aircrafts. Besides this, there are several other crimes (such as aerial piracy, unlawful seizure of aircrafts, unlawful interference with aircrafts), including crimes that are committed on land that could be committed on aircrafts to be included under this category of crimes on board aircrafts.

The 1963 Tokyo Convention

Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft, also known as the Tokyo Convention is the legal regime established to govern and regulate penal offences committed abroad on international flights. The Convention was convened by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 1963 in Tokyo and was effected in 1969. The objective of the Convention to establish a uniform treatment of offenders for crimes committed by them. It seeks to protect and condemn criminal acts that jeopardise the safety of the aircraft.

The Convention applies only to civil aircrafts, keeping military aircrafts out of the purview of this Convention. However, a military aircraft engaged for a civil purpose (like that of carrying passengers) will fall within the ambit of this Convention. The Convention follows the 1944 Chicago Convention, which established rules and regulations on matters such as airspace, aircraft registration, safety and security, sustainability, etc.

Principle of Jurisdiction

Prosecution of crime is instrumental in bringing justice. Any State must possess the jurisdiction to determine and adjudge in a criminal matter. The rule is that the State in which the aircraft is registered will have the jurisdiction to adjudge the matter.[2] This is supported by the active-passive personality doctrine which gives the nation-state the jurisdiction based on the principle that the crime was committed by or against its nationals. Article 4 provides the circumstances where other States (than the one in which the aircraft is registered) can assume jurisdiction to adjudge matters. Such circumstances are briefly as follows:

  • Territory which has suffered the effect of the offence
  • Offence has been committed by or against one of its permanent residents or nationals
  • Offence is against security
  • Offence includes a breach of its rules or regulations relating to the aircraft or its movement
  • The exercise of jurisdiction is essential to fulfil any obligation under a multilateral treaty

Powers of the aircraft commander

Articles 5-10 confer special powers on the aircraft commander which shall be exercised by him/ her when the situation arises. These powers are vested to protect the persons and property on board and to maintain orderliness within the aircraft. These powers can be exercised by the Commander only when there is reasonable doubt to believe that a person has committed or will commit an offence.There are three kinds of powers conferred upon the commander: restraining the person whom the commander believes on reasonable grounds that such a person has committed or will commit an offence; disembark in the territory of any State in which the aircraft lands; and deliver such a person to competent authorities of any Party in the territory which the aircraft lands.


Act committed on board may constitute as an offencein different jurisdictions. The Convention has no provision for a priority of jurisdiction in which the matter can be adjudged.It mandates that the Party to which such a person is delivered, or in the territory in which an aircraft lands, after the commission of an offence, must make a preliminary inquiry into the factswithout any delay[3]and promptly report its findings to the State in which the aircraft was registered and the State of nationality of the detained person and, if it considers it advisable and necessary, to any other interested States. It is also required to indicate whether it intends to exercise jurisdiction.[4]Owing to the possibility of concurrent jurisdiction and the lack of any order of priority, the State of landing may receive more than one request for the person’s extradition or return.


Safety and security of passengers travelling by air are of utmost importance, because unprecedented events may lead to fatal conclusions. The ratification by 186 parties indicate that such parties have agreed to the norms laid down by the convention and had agreed to abide by it. With connecting between different parts of the world becoming easier, it is essential to protect the means that helps this connecting possible. The potential of people exhibiting abnormal behaviour on board could possibly induce fright amongst passengers which will deter them to undertake any such journeys. Therefore, the importance of the Convention and the importance behind abiding by it cannot be emphasised further.


[2] Article 3 of the Convention

[3]Article 13(4)

[4] Article 13(5)

This Article Written by S. Dhivya, Student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

Also Read – International Space Law And Air Law

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