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Airport licensing laws call for evidence begins

The government is seeking views on the extent of the problem of drunk and disorderly air passengers, as part of a consultation on whether to extend alcohol licensing laws to airports in England and Wales.08 Nov 2018

In April 2017, a House of Lords select committee recommended that licensing laws be extended to airports following a rise in reports of drunk and disorderly behaviour at airports and on flights. The 2003 Licensing Act does not apply to bars, restaurants, lounges and shops located beyond the security gates at international airports, meaning that they are not bound by the sale rules intended to stop sales to drunk individuals or prevent irresponsible promotions.

The government intends to use the consultation exercise to establish the scale of the problem, the effectiveness or otherwise of the current measures available to airports and airlines and the potential economic impacts, feasibility and practicality of extending landside licensing laws. While the 2003 Licensing Act does not regulate the sale and supply of alcohol on planes, passengers risk up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine for drunkenness on an aircraft.

Licensing law expert Christopher Rees-Gay of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, welcomed the consultation, but stressed the need for any future government action to be based on firm evidence.

"This 'call for evidence' should be welcomed, so that the extent of the problem in relation to drunk and disruptive airline passengers can be evidenced," he said.

"If it is confirmed by evidence that there are issues, then the cause of these issues should be explored and dealt with by appropriate measures. I stress the requirement for evidence to be used, as there have been recent occasions whereby the government has introduced legislative changes to gambling legislation that were not based on evidence - a very dangerous precedent," he said.

Trade union Unite surveyed over 4,000 cabin crew working for British-based airlines in August 2017. It found that 87% of respondents reported witnessing drunken passenger behaviour at UK airports, or on flights from UK airports.

Airside facilities at UK international airports were exempted from licensing laws in the mid 1950s, due to concerns that the growing UK aviation and tourist industry risked losing its competitiveness compared to other world airports and destinations where licensing laws were far less restrictive.

The call for evidence relates to airports in England and Wales only, as sales of alcohol at international airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland are regulated separately under the 2005 Licensing (Scotland) Act and the 1995 Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order. Scottish licensing law expert Frances Ennis of Pinsent Masons said that airports in Scotland would be watching the outcome of the call for evidence closely to see whether the Scottish government would choose to conduct a similar review.