International Law Law School Assignment

Aircraft Hijacking- Meaning, History, Causes & Law

Aircraft Hijacking- Meaning, History, Causes & Law

This Article explains all about Aircraft Hijacking. Its meaning, history, cause and international frameworks. It is written by “Tshewang Dema“, a Final year BA.LLB student at LPU, School of Law.


“The Government’s priority remains the earliest termination of hijacking and the earliest return of the passengers, crew and aircraft”            [1]                                    ~Jaswant Singh

In this changing time, the world has come across new developments and adopting new technologies. Today, the mode of transportation has changed to be far better and more convenient. The use of aircraft, which is one of the most important for transportation, brings some problems along as the number of people using it increases.

Safety in the skies, regularity and the economy has been viewed as the primary objective of international air transport. Air navigation has been a global activity throughout the entire world, so also is the global concerns for safety becoming a high priority. Over the years, however, might either be criminals or politically motivated terrorists, especially performing the act of hijacking civil aircraft which, not only endanger the safety of civil aviation but also frustrates the development of air transportation.

Aircraft hijacking also known as skyjacking and sky controlling is the unlawful seizure of an aircraft by an individual or a group. In most cases, the pilot is forced to fly according to the orders of the hijackers[2]. Occasionally, however, the hijackers have flown the aircraft themselves. Even there is a case where the plane is been hijacked by the official pilot which mesmerized. Hijacking has gradually become the torment of civil aviation of the countries.

According to International Law, the aircraft crime is considered as one of the crimes against humanity. It is totally excoriated by the international community because the effect of this crime traumatizes the human values, endangers lives, and destroys possessions, goods and chattels.[3]

It is seen that most of the aircraft hijackers use the passengers as hostages, either for money or for some political or administrative forfeit from the authorities. The motives differ from demanding the release of certain inmates, heightening the grievance of a particular community to political asylum. Further, the hijackers have also used the aircraft as a weapon to target particular locations like drones without a pilot. This paper seeks to address about the aircraft hijacking and its cause with relevant case law that have happen around the world. To understand better, the history of the aircraft hijacking has been explained year wise with support of most relevant case to signify the aircraft hijacking regarding international laws. 


Before the Chicago Convention, no law defines the term “aircraft”, but ICAO Annex 7- Aircraft nationality & registration defines aircraft as “any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reaction of the air other than the reaction of the air against the earth’s surface”.[4] So, under this definition, an aerospace vehicle launched by a rocket on the ascent phase of its flight but might well be on the descent phase. Whereas the word “hijacking” is not used in any of the international conventions. However, the act of hijacking has been prescribed as an offence and the same has been mentioned in the Hague Convention.[5]

Hijacking involves the unlawful use of force by a person, while on board an aircraft in flight, or threat or by any other form of intimidation to seize or exercised control of an aircraft or attempt to perform such an act. Hence there are three International Conventions specifically dealing with the crime of hijacking on board of an aircraft and the aviation industry.

Therefore, Aircraft Hijacking which is also known as skyjacking means the forceful and unlawful seizure of an aircraft by an individual or a group. The legal definition of aircraft hijacking is given in Article 1 of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft 1970 commonly known as the Hague Convention as mentioned that any person who is on board and aircraft in flight:

   (a) unlawfully, by force or threat thereof, or by any other form of intimidation, seizes, or exercises control of, that aircraft, or attempts to perform any such act, or

   (b) is an accomplice of a person who performs or attempts to perform any such act, commits the offence of Hijacking.

After witnessing many aircraft hijacking incidents in various ways in different countries and years, there come up with many rules for solutions after each incident to prevent the hijacking. The problem in aircraft hijackings not only put people’s life in danger and difficult situations but also put existing airlines, countries, people, and the aviation sector in the difficult scene.[6] It doesn’t only affect the people, but it also threatens the settlements and agreements between counties. Hence it is important to have a solution for the problem so it can prevent the whole world from its cause and can understand too.


An aircraft crime which is also commonly called “aircraft hijacking” in international law terminology is one of the crimes within the range of international law that is condemned by the international community who loves peacefulness and maintains humanity values, threatens lives and destroys belonging. Aircraft hijackings have occurred since the early days of flight. Aircraft hijacking continually occurs, committed by different hijackers with whatever motives, for as long as there are national and international commercial flights.[7] Every year, there is always a case of aircraft hijacking, although there have always been preventive efforts conducted both by the government, nationally and internationally organizations that have used up a lot of funds and energy.

Aircraft hijacking history can be classified into four eras that is 1929-1957, 1958-1979, 1980-2000 and 2020s present. Early incidents involved light planes, but this later involved passenger aircraft as commercial aviation became widespread.


Between 1929 and 1957, there were fewer than 20 incidents of hijacking reported worldwide, several occurred in Eastern Europe. In December 1929, one of the first unclaimed hijackings was reported. Howard “Doc” DeCelles was flying a postal route for a Mexican firm, Transports Areas Transcontinental’s, ferrying mail from San Lusi Potosi to Torreon and then on to Guadalajara. A lieutenant named Saturnino Cedillo,[8] the governor of the state of San Lui Potosi, ordered him to divert. Several other men were also involved and through an interpreter, Decelles had no choice but to comply as he was allegedly held captive for several hours under armed guard before being released.[9]

The first-ever recorded aircraft hijacking took place on 21st February 1931 in Arequipa, Peru.[10] Several armed revolutionaries approached American pilot Byron Rickards and tried unsuccessfully to force him to fly them to their destination Initially, Rickards refused to do so. However, when the resolutioners’ uprising was successful on March 2, 1931, Rickards was allowed to go back but was ordered to fly one of the members of the revolutionaries to Lima, Peru. Although this was not a hijacking in the meaning of the term as it is understood today, it is argued that this was the first hijacking as it led to an unauthorized seizure and use of an aircraft.

From 1931 to 1957, a period of 27 years, there were 20 hijackings worldwide. In September 1932, a Sikorsky S-38 with registration P-BDAD,[11] still bearing the title of Nyrba do Brasil was seized in the company’s hanger by three men, who took a fourth as a hostage. Despite having no flying experience, they managed to take off. However, the aircraft was crashed in São João de Meriti, killing the four men. The hijack was related to the events of the Constitutionalist Revolution in São Paulo; it is considered to be the first hijack that took place in Brazil. 

On October 28, 1939, the first murder on a plane took place in Brookfield, Missouri, US. The victim was Carl Bivens, a flight instructor, who was teaching a man named Earnest P. “Larry” Pletch. While airborne in a Taylor Cub monoplane, Pletch shot Bivens twice in the back of the head. The Chicago Daily Tribune stated it was one of the most spectacular crimes of the 20th century. Pletch pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. However, he was released on March 1, 1957, after serving 17 years, and lived until June 2001.

In 1942 near Malta, two New Zealanders, a South African and an Englishman achieved the first confirmed in-air hijack when they overpowered their captors aboard an Italian seaplane that was flying them to a prisoner-of-war camp. As they approached an Allied base, they were strafed by Spitfires unaware of the aircraft’s true operators and forced to land on the water. However, all on board survived to be picked up by a British boat.

In the years following World War II, Philip Baum, an aviation security expert suggests that the development of a rebellious youth “piggybacking on to any cause which challenged the status quo or acted in support of those deemed oppressed”, may have been a contributor to attacks against the aviation field. The first hijacking of a commercial flight occurred on the Cathay Pacific Miss Macao on July 16, 1948. After this incident and others in the 1950s, airlines recommended that flight crews comply with the hijackers’ demands rather than risk a violent confrontation.[12] There were also various hijacking incidents and assaults on planes in China and the Middle East.

The first hijacking of a flight for political reasons happened in Bolivia, affecting the airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano on September 26, 1956.[13] The DC-4 was carrying 47 prisoners who were being transported from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to El Alto, in La Paz. A political group was waiting to take them to a concentration camp located in Carahuara de Carangas, Oruro. The 47 prisoners overpowered the crew and gained control of the aircraft while airborne and diverted the plane to Tartagal, Argentina. Prisoners took control of the aircraft and received instructions to again fly to Salta, Argentina, as the airfield in Tartagal was not big enough. Upon landing, they told the government of the injustice they were subjected to and received political asylum.


From 1958 to 1967, around 40 hijackings took place worldwide, many of them between Cuba and the United States. Between 1958 and 1967, there were approximately 40 hijackings worldwide. Beginning in 1958, hijackings from Cuba to other destinations started to occur; in 1961, hijackings from other destinations to Cuba became prevalent. The first happened on May 1, 1961, on a flight from Miami to Key West. The perpetrator, armed with a knife and gun, forced the captain to land in Cuba.[14]

Australia was relatively untouched by the threat of hijackings until July 19, 1960. On that evening, a 22-year-old Russian man attempted to divert Trans Australia Airlines Flight 408 to Darwin or Singapore. The crew were able to subdue the man after a brief struggle.

According to the FAA, in the 1960s, there were 100 attempts of hijackings involving U.S. aircraft: 77 successful and 23 unsuccessful. Recognizing the danger early, the FAA issued a directive on July 28, 1961, which prohibits unauthorized persons from carrying concealed firearms and interfering with crew members’ duties. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was amended to impose severe penalties for those seizing control of a commercial aircraft. Airlines could also refuse to transport passengers who were likely to cause danger. That same year, the FAA and Department of Justice created the Peace Officers Program which put trained marshals on flights. A few years later, on May 7, 1964, the FAA adopted a rule requiring that cockpit doors on commercial aircraft be kept locked at all times.[15]

In five years (1968–1972) the world experienced 326 hijack attempts or once every 5.6 days. The incidents were frequent and often just an inconvenience, which resulted in television shows creating parodies. Time magazine even ran a light-hearted comedy piece called “What to Do When the Hijacker Comes”. Most incidents occurred in the United States. There were two distinct types: hijackings for transportation elsewhere and hijackings for extortion with the threat of harm.

Between 1968 and 1972, there were 90 recorded transport attempts to Cuba. In contrast, there were 26 extortion attempts (see table on the right). The longest and first transcontinental (Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Bangor, Shannon and Rome) hijacking from the US started on 31 October 1969.

The Eastern Air Lines Shuttle flight 1320 on May 17, 1970, witnessed the first fatality during a U.S. high-jacking. Incidents also became problematic outside of the U.S. For instance, in 1968, El Al Flight 426 was seized by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militants on 23 July, an incident that lasted 40 days, making it one of the longest. This record was later beaten in 1999. As a result of the evolving threat, President Nixon issued a directive in 1970 to promote security at airports, electronic surveillance and multilateral agreements for tackling the problem. [16]

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issued a report on aircraft hijacking in July 1970. Beginning in 1969 until the end of June 1970, there were 118 incidents of unlawful seizure of aircraft and 14 incidents of sabotage and armed attacks against civil aviation. This involved airlines of 47 countries and more than 7,000 passengers. In this period, 96 people were killed and 57 were injured as a result of hijacking, sabotage and armed attacks.

The ICAO stated that this is not isolated to one nation or one region, but a worldwide issue to the safe growth of international civil aviation. Incidents also became notorious – in 1971, a man known as D. B. Cooper hijacked a plane and extorted US$200,000 in ransom before parachuting over Oregon. He was never identified.

On August 20, 1971, a Pakistan Air Force T-33 military plane was hijacked before the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 in Karachi. Lieutenant Matior Rahman attacked Officer Rashid minhas and attempts to land in India. Minhas deliberately crashed the plane into the ground near Thatta to prevent the diversion.

1980–the 2000s

By 1980, airport screening and greater cooperation from the international community led to fewer successful hijackings; the number of events had significantly dropped below the 1968 level. Between 1978 and 1988, there were roughly 26 incidents of hijackings a year. A new threat emerged in the 1980s: organised terrorists destroying aircraft to draw attention. For instance, terrorist groups were responsible for the bombing of Air India Flight 182 over the Irish coast. In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed flying over Scotland. Terrorist activity which included hijack attempts in the Middle East was also a cause of concern. The number of hijackings decreased after 1988 due to increased security measures.

But during the 1990s, there was relative peace in the United States airspace as the threat of domestic hijacking was seen as a distant memory. Globally, however, hijackings persisted. Between 1993 and 2003, the highest number of hijackings occurred in 1993. This number can be attributed to events in China where hijackers were trying to gain political asylum in Taiwan. Europe and the rest of East Asia were not immune either. On December 26, 1994, Air France Flight 8969 with 172 passengers and crew was hijacked after leaving Algiers. Authorities believed that the goal was to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower.

On June 21, 1995, all Nippon Airways Flight 857 was hijacked by a man claiming to be a member of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult, demanding the release of its imprisoned leader Shoko Asahara. The incident was resolved when the police stormed the plane. On 17th October 1996, the first hijacking that was brought to an end while airborne was carried out by four operatives of the Austrian special law enforcement unit Cobra on a Russian Aeroflot flight from Malta to Lagos, Nigeria, aboard a Tupolev TU-154. The operative escorted inmates detained for deportation to their homeland and was equipped with weapons and gloves.[17]

On 12th April 1999, six ELN members hijacked a Fokker 50 of Aviance Flight 9463, flying from Bucaramanga to Bogota. Many hostages were held for more than a year and the last hostage was finally freed 19 months after the hijacking. On September 11, 2001, hijacked planes were used as missiles to target important buildings. 42 hijackings were reported between September 11, 2001, to 31st December 2010. Only 9 hijackings have been reported since 1st January 2011, including 4 unsuccessful attempts. Another plane hijacking took place on 24th February 2019, when a 26-year-old man hijacked a Biman Bangladesh Airlines Flight flying from Dhaka to Chittagong. He was shot dead by the security forces at Chittagong Airport.[18]

 The 2020s

On May 23, 2021, Ryanair Flight 4978 was forcibly diverted to Minsk International Airport while flying over Belarus en route from Athens to Vilnius after local authorities falsely claimed a bomb was on board and State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (KGB) officers initiated a fight with the flight crew. The flight was diverted to detain Roman Protasevich, a journalist and activist considered a terrorist by the KGB.

On July 7, 2021, a male passenger grabbed the flight controls of a Ryan Air Services Cessna 208 Caravan on approach to Aniak Airport after a scheduled flight from Bethel Airport in Alaska carrying a single pilot and four other passengers. The man briefly placed the aircraft in a nosedive at low altitude before being pushed away by the pilot and restrained by other passengers.[19] The pilot regained control and landed the aircraft safely; no injuries were reported. The man was arrested by Alaska State Troopers and admitted that his actions were an attempted murder-suicide. He was charged with several counts of assault, attempted assault, and making terroristic threats, and may face federal charges.[20]


The aircraft hijacking act has various reasons. It is believed that most of them are political reasons. Viewed from the area of its occurrence, the aircraft hijackings are mostly committed in Middle East and Cuba. After the second world war, the world got separated into two; iron curtain and west blocks and hostility reigned between the two blocks. As a result, people that want to escape from one block to the other started to use planes as vehicles. Aircraft hijacking for political reasons is done for two purposes.[21]

One of the reasons is, the people that think their freedom of thought is restricted and that they may get punished for their acts want to escape to another country. Another reason is that people think that aircraft hijacking can draw much attention and they do it to draw attention to the political situation in their country. Aircraft hijacking may have other reasons than political reasons.

A hijacking can be carried out by even a member of the crew. Chinese civil aviation has the only recorded incident of self-hijacking in October 1998, when the pilot of an Air China flight from Beijing to Kunming in Yunnan, took it instead to Taiwan after threatening to crash it killing the passengers if the other members of the crew prevented him from flying to Taiwan.[22]

Even the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of use to inspired hijackings as a weapon of destabilisation against the Fidel Castro regime which had seized power in Cuba in January 1959, and nationalised all plantations and other property owned by US businessmen. The hijackers inspired or instigated by the CIA did not make any political demands as a price for releasing the aircraft and passengers. They just forced the pilot to fly to either the US naval base at Guantanamo in Cuba or to the US and sought political asylum after condemning the communist regime at a press conference arranged by the CIA.[23]

The CIA thus used hijacking as a psychological weapon to have the Castro regime discredited in the eyes of the Cuban people as well as of those of other Latin American countries in order to prevent an emulation of the Cuban communist model. Another CIA objective was to cause a depletion in the Cuban civil aviation fleet strength, thereby causing air transportation difficulties inside Cuba. The US did not return the planes to Cuba. Instead, these were ordered to be seized by US courts as compensation for the properties of US businessmen nationalised by the Castro regime.

Further the cause of the aircraft hijacking is about the retaliatory hijacking inspired by the Cuban intelligence, involving either US or non-US aircraft carrying a large number of US nationals. Like the CIA, the Cuban intelligence used these hijackings purely as a psychological weapon to have the US discredited.  Later even Taiwanese intelligence use the emulation of the CIA’s covert action technique in its psychological warfare against Beijing by inspiring hijacking from the mainland to Taiwan.

The extensive use of hijacking as a weapon of national liberation or ideological struggle by the various Palestinian organisations and ideological groups supporting the Palestinian cause such as the Baader-Meinhof of West Germany, the Red Army factions of West Germany and Japan etc. after the Arab-Israeli war of July, 1967. The targets of their hijackings were mainly Israeli nationals.

In additional, the use of hijackings as a weapon of struggle by other political, religious or ideological organisations or political dissident groups in the rest of the world. Some of these were supported by foreign intelligence agencies such as the support of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan to various anti-Indian groups since 1971, while others were not.

There is case where an aircraft hijacking was committed due to the motive of being in a broken home condition was committed by a Sri Lankan named Ekanayaka Sapala to one of the airplanes owned by Alitalia airlines. On 30th June 1982, he hijacked Boeing 747 of Alitalia airlines[24] during its journey from New Delhi to Bangkok (Thailand). He demanded to be united with his separated wife and children and a ransom of three hundred thousand US dollars. After he was united with his children and his wife – who was an Italian – he surrendered to the authority in Bangkok.

To simplify, the following can be the reasons for aircraft hijacking:

  1. When hijackers are equipped with weapons;
  2. when the security systems are vulnerable and due to ransom;
  3. when hijackers seek media attention;
  4. when hijackers don’t conform to the social and political condition in their country and want to be freed from that situation;
  5. when hijackers are mentally unsound and unfit for the action he does;
  6. when hijackers wanted to get extorted money out of the country;
  7. by the act of terrorism, intents to prove and satisfy their ego and
  8. hijackers who are refugees and want to be free of oppressive systems.

Ever since the start of commercial aviation, various accidents and incident have happened. All accidents and incidents have revealed the deficiencies and inadequacies in the aviation sectors. Many lives of people and economy of the country was in lost. Aircraft hijacking is one of the problems that every power and availability of air countries have faced. The fact is that these problems occur in period where transportation have become easy and comfortable which led it to necessary to address national and international solution regarding aircraft hijacking crimes.[25] 

The law in regulating states responsibility is a difficult subject. Countries around the world continued their efforts to tackle crimes committed on-board planes. with studies conducted prevention measures, punishments, and dissuasive rules were created as this problem has entered penal laws of countries, and international agreements in the international level.[26] After aircraft hijacking incidents, the investigations mostly try to base the incident on political grounds; this fact makes it necessary to establish some rules both nationally and internationally. The desire to base aircraft hijacking crimes on political grounds comes from the thought of removing the return of the criminals. It is now compulsory to make necessary regulations to separate aircraft hijacking from political crimes with agreements.

Based on the data, the number of aircraft hijacking cases by December 1983 had reached 724 incidents of hijacking all over the worlds on various airways and with various motives. Realizing how dangerous the effects of aircraft hijacking for humans and their belongings are, the states of the members of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other aviation organizations both nationally and internationally, individually or together, are trying to prevent or to resolve any aircraft hijacking in accordance with their own need. The efforts in preventing aircraft hijacking have been done juridically by legalizing national law, ratifying international convention related to civil aircraft hijacking, establishing bilateral agreement, extraditing, or preventing and resolving any hijacking both in land and air.

Following below explains the international agreements for measure taken to deter from aircraft hijacking:

 Preventing and Punishing Terrorism Agreement

By this agreement, it state that all acts directed towards damaging or abolishing properties assigned to public service or public properties that took off from one of the contract States are considered as terror acts. Thus, harmful acts against planes got into the punishable area. Another important aspect of the agreement was to ensure the return of such terrorist offenders.[27] Those who undertook terrorist acts would not be able to shelter in another country. When we look at this agreement about political events, inability to sheltering in another country shows that it cannot be based on political grounds

Geneva Convention, 1958

When we look at Geneva Convention Regarding Open Seas, dated 29th  April 1958; there is not much information about aircraft hijacking. According to the convention, all kinds of acts, interceptions, and plundering of a ship, a plane, people or properties inside are considered as crimes and express piracy act. An important point here is that acts that are not committed with personal goals do not constitute piracy crime. When we look at it as a political crime, it is not mentioned in the Geneva Convention.

Tokyo Convention, 1963

The origin of Tokyo Convention which is actually know to be Convention on Offence and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft is the Cordova incident of 1947. While the plane was over the sea, the passenger Diego Cordova started to argue with other passengers while extremely drunk and bit the pilot and hostess who wanted to interfere. By the marine judicial system of USA, an allegation was made in New York Federal Court; however, the incident came to an end when the court dropped the case because the plane is not a marine vessel.

To solve the problem and ensure punishment to the hijackers, the Tokyo Convention was drafted in 1958, established an agreement between signatories that the “state in which the aircraft is registered is competent to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed on board that aircraft while it is in flight”.[28] While the Convention does not make hijacking an international crime, it does contain provisions that obligate the country in which a hijacked aircraft lands to restore the aircraft to its responsible owner and allow the passengers and crew to continue their journey. The Convention Tokyo Convention was adopted on 14th September 1963 and came into force on 4th December 1969.[29]

Tokyo Convention involves an agreement that authorizes the pilot to use force if the crime is committed inside the plane. The captain can use this right through others, in other words, passengers. When we look at the rules and punishments to be applied, the rules of the country the plane is registered in will be applicable. The fundamental regulation of Tokyo Convention is giving the pilot of the plane certain rights. The rise of violence in planes in those years created the Tokyo Convention, and it was thought that it could be solved with the rights given to the pilot. However, increasing incidents in the following years showed that Tokyo Convention was not enough. Tokyo Convention does not have regulations regarding political crimes and aircraft hijacking.

One of the shortcomings of the Tokyo Convention was that it failed to declare the act of hijacking to be a crime under International Law. This was mainly because it was agreed during the drafting of the Convention that no attempt would be made to define penal offences.

Hague Convention, 1970

Though Tokyo Convention is regarded as the first step to combat unlawful interference with civil aviation but  due to failure of  Tokyo Convention to solve the problem and the number of incidents of hijacking continued to increase, a year later, in December 1970, the Hague Convention formally known as Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful of Aircraft was drafted which punishes hijackers, enabling each state to prosecute a hijacker if that state does not extradite them, and to deprive them of asylum from prosecution.[30] After having been ratified by the prescribed number of States, the Hague Convention came into force on October 14, 1971. According to the scheme of this Convention the State parties will get jurisdiction over the hijacker and it will become very difficult for the hijacker to escape the process of law.

On 5th December, 1972, the FAA issued emergency rules requiring all passengers and their carry-on baggage to be screened. Airports slowly implemented walk-through metal detectors, hand-searches and X-ray machines, to prohibit weapons and explosive devices. These rules came into effect on 5th January 1973 and were welcomed by most of the public.[31] In 1974, Congress enacted a statute that provided for the death penalty for acts of aircraft piracy resulting in death. Between 1968 and 1977, there were approximately 41 hijackings per year.

 Montreal Convention, 1971

Despite this Convention, there was no appreciable decrease in the number of incidents of hijacking. With a view to evolve more effective means to suppress the crime of hijacking, a Conference was held in Montreal from 8th September to 23rd September 1971. A Convention known as Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts, Against the Safety of Civil Aviation 1971 was signed on 23rd September 1971.[32] Under this Convention the State parties have undertaken to provide for deterrent punishment for the crime of hijacking. It applies only to civil aircrafts. It does not apply to customs, police or military aircrafts.

Montreal Convention criticizes Hauge Convention on the provision relating to jurisdiction and extradition of hijackings. Instead, this Convention is simply an improvement of the Hague Convention because except the provision of providing deterrent punishment to the hijacker’s rest of the provisions regarding prosecution and extradition are identical to that Hague Convention. Montreal Convention is directed against not only unlawful acts but also act with intention against a person on aircraft in flight if act is likely to endanger the safety of the aircraft in flight.

Issues in combating hijacking of aircrafts and addressed through these Convention are as follow:

  1. The establishment of the offence of hijacking and the provision for accomplice.
  2. Issue of non-parties to the convention
  3. Issues of extradition
  4. The issues of settlement of disputes arising from the interpretation of the Hague Convention
  5. Issues of jurisdiction

The principle of Universal Jurisdiction is already recognized in respect of the crime of piracy and war crimes. Since hijacking is generally described as “aerial piracy” the principle of Universal Jurisdiction should also apply in respect of the crime of hijacking.[33] The Hague Convention and the Montreal Convention have given a long way to confer Universal Jurisdiction, to a great extent, on all states.

If an offender or alleged offender is within the territory of a state, both Conventions contain provision for him to be taken into custody and if he is not extradited, for his case to be placed before the prosecution authorities. Although neither Convention creates a duty to extradite or an inescapable duty to prosecute, authorities are nevertheless under a duty to take their decision in the same manner as in the case of an ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that state.


The first to be traced episode of an airplane hijack of a commercial aircraft occurred on July 16, 1948. It was an unsuccessful attempt, of gaining control of a Cathay Pacific seaplane, which caused it to crash into the sea off Macau.

The airplane was on its routine flight from Macau to Hong Kong, when it was hijacked only a few minutes after it take off. Four men armed with guns, had a motive of robbery and ransom. But it all became confusion and hustle when one of the hijackers demanded the controls of airplane and the pilot refused to give in.[34] The co-pilot also attacked one of the hijackers and it all led to the pilot shot dead, which further headed for an uncontrolled dive and crashing into the sea. The plane consisted of 26 people on board; out of which there was a sole survivor which later on confessed to be one of the hijackers.

Aircraft Hijacking

An Atlas jet flight was hijacked on its way from Northern Cyprus to Istanbul. There were 6 crew members and 136 passengers on board when it left the airport in Northern Cyprus. Two tall, dark-skinned men forced their way into the plane’s cockpit stating that they were the members of the al-Qaeda and demanded that plane be flown to Iran or Syria and that they had bomb. However, the pilots made an excuse of refuelling the plane and made an emergency landing in Antalya, the southern-Turkish city.[35] One of the pilots claimed that the hijackers were Iranian, whereas the passengers reported that they were Turkish.

On landing at Antalya, the plane was without delay enclosed by police. The hijackers in return threatened the blow up the plane. But the airport authorities convinced them to let the women and children off the plane.[36] While this was being done, the two pilots climbed out of the plane window and other passengers hustled through the doors which created a chaotic situation, forcing the hijackers to surrender. No fatal harm but some injuries were recorded.


On December 21, 1988, a bomb exploded in the cargo hold of Pan Am Flight 103 (London to New York), killing all 259 passengers and crew, as well as eleven residents of the town of Lockerbie where the wreckage of the Boeing 747 crashed 31,000 feet below. After years of negotiations and diplomatic maneuvering, in April 1999, Libya surrendered the two Libyan officials accused of the bombing (Abdelbasset Ali Ahmed Al-Megrahi and Ali Amin Khalifa Fhimah) for trial in the Netherlands before a panel of Scottish judges at a former U.S. military base known as Camp Zeist. The trial began on May 3, 2000.[37]

Though neither country had an extradition treaty with Libya, the United States and United Kingdom both demanded that Libya immediately surrender Al-Meghrahi and Fhimah to them for trial. Citing the “lynch mob atmosphere” prevailing in the United States and United Kingdom concerning this case, as well as its right to undertake its own prosecution of the accused under the Montreal Aircraft Sabotage Convention of 1971, Libya refused to comply with the United States and United Kingdom demands.

In 1992, the UN Security Council responded to Libya’s refusal by adopting Resolution 748, which imposes sanctions on Libya until it hands over the two accused of trial, makes compensation to the victims’ families, and demonstrates with concrete actions its renunciation of terrorism. As expanded in 1993 with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 883,[38] the sanctions required the members of the United Nations to freeze Libyan government funds in their banks, impose an embargo on military and oil production equipment on Libya, and prohibit flights arriving from or destined for Libya. Libya responded by offering to extradite Al-Meghrahi and Fhimah to Malta, where their acts allegedly took place.

However, the United States and United Kingdom rejected the offer on the ground that Malta was so close geographically to Libya that its judiciary would be susceptible to improper influence. As an alternative, in 1994, Libya proposed trial before a Scottish court, provided it sat in a neutral country such as the Netherlands. At first, the United States and United Kingdom rejected the offer, believing it to be merely a propaganda ploy.

During the next few years, however, it became increasingly clear that, despite sanctions, the two Libyans would not be surrendered for trial. Meanwhile, a growing number of countries were expressing their opposition to the sanctions, and enforcement of the sanctions began to erode. Finally, in August 1998, the British Government of Tony Blair persuaded the United States to agree to Libya’s plan.[39]


Like several other American males of that day, D.B Cooper (named mention by media to refer an unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in U.S) was dressed in a dark suit and a tie with a pearl tie pin, and a white shirt; he also wore a hat, with a dented top and slim frame and held a briefcase in his hand, who behaved as a creditable gentleman.[40]

But something went odd, just when he gave the young stewardess a note immediately as the plane took off. The note said, “I have a bomb,”[41] after which he even showed to her a glimpse of wires and what looked like dynamite. He further sent the message to the pilot to keep the plane aloft, and things he required be provided to him. His act had worked well, he had threatened and hijacked the airplane 727 with 21 pounds of $20 bills, (an amount of $200,000 he received as ransom) fasten with straps to his chest. A sole man had hijacked a Boeing 727. He took the money, two backpacks and a parachute and dived from the rear of the plane. It has been more than four decades now, that the devil-in-disguise D.B. Cooper, a name which has never been proven to be his real name too, has only been pondered upon. For all his crimes, he has actually never been caught though the FBI maintained active investigation for 45 years after the hijacking.

Aircraft Hijacking

They are three most deadly of all aircraft hijackings. 19 terrorists hijacked four planes the American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93, and United Airlines Flight 175; out of these four flights, three were used as cruise missile for suicide bombing on buildings.[42]

In the fourth flight, which was to attack the White House building, was diverted by the crew and passengers by attacking the hijackers resulting in a crash but only the people in plane were killed. In all these four hijackings all together, about 3,000 people were killed.[43]

The Pentagon, in common with the nearby White House, was one of the best-protected community buildings in the USA. Eyewitnesses and officials state that the hijacked plane first landed on the ground and then moved and hit straight into the building.

While one plane that crashed into 80th floor of the WTC was hijacked after take-off from Boston to Los Angeles, another plane also from Boston crashed on the 60th floor of the WTC. In Pentagon, hijacked plane from Washington loops back to Washington and crashed into Pentagon West Wing destroying 3 of 5 concentric rings of offices. The above devastating attacks resulted into the mass destruction and mass disruption and caused deep concern. More than 6000 people lost their lives and thousands of persons suffered dreadful injuries from 78 countries.


It is believed that India and Pakistan’s relationship status always bring new issues on long run where some people of their country had always hatred to each other forming terrorist indulging in Taliban to create new disaster that affect ultimately both the country and hence affect the economic as well relation in international too.

The first hijack of an Indian Aircraft took place on January 30, 1971, when an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked on its way from Srinagar to Jammu by two member of the JAMMU AND kasimer Liberation Front (JKLF) who was a 16-year-old teen named Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Butt.[44]

The aircraft named Ganga was hijacked with a toy pistol and a wooden grenade and flown to Lahore, Pakistan that was given to these two men to blew it up with those explosives given by the ISI at Lahore after releasing the passenger and crew and the plane was burnt on 1st February 1971. The Pakistani authorities denied permission to retrieve the plane back to India and also helped the militants by supplying petrol to burn the plane. Further Pakistan also refused to extradite the hijackers.

Aircraft Hijacking

On 24th December 1999, an Indian Airlines Flight (814) also known as IC 814, fluing from Kathmandu, Nepal to Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi was hijacked by five Pakistani hijackers and diverted to Kandahar, Afghanistan, which at that time was controlled by the Taliban who was in collaboration with ISI. Taliban have surrounded the aircraft to prevent any Indian military intervention at that time.[45]

Before reaching Afghanistan, the plane was flown to various locations including Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group, planned and executed the hijacking with the support and active guidance from ISI. During the bargain with the Indian government, the hijackers released 27 of 176 passengers in Dubai but fatally stabbed one and wounded several others.

The main purpose for the hijacking appears to have been to secure the release of Islamist captured in the prison in India. After a weeklong stand-off, India agreed to release three militants who were jailed in India, in exchange for the hostages, i.e., Masood Azhar; Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar; and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. These three militants have since been charged in other terrorist activities, such as the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, 2008 Mumbai attacks.[46] On 1st May 2019, Masood Azhar was declared an International Terrorist by the UN Security Council. Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar are living in Pakistan, while Ahmed Sheikh is imprisoned for life in the U.K. The hijacking has been noted as one of the millennium attack plots in late December 1999 and early January 2000 by al-Qaeda jihadists.


Air transport is considered fast and reliable; it continuously grows and brings together some problems. Unfortunately, making some necessary regulations and decisions in the aviation sector happen because of some worst incidents. Problems in the universalism principle of aviation affect many countries. The fact that there are gaps in security procedures of countries and the punishments not being deterrent in aircraft hijacking acts; affect many people, regions, and countries.[47]

Increasing terrorist acts in the last years; acts like aircraft hijacking by terrorist groups make it necessary to review universal rules, penal sanctions, and security procedures. It proves that nowadays aircraft hijacking acts cannot be associated with political events because of international agreements.

Incidents of hijacking have no reduction while much have been achieved much more remains to be done to effectively deal with hijacking. The Process is continuing but still the fact comes out clear: nation State are not prepared to fetter their sovereignty; the aircraft users seem to be condemned to rely on co-operation between States which seems to be more an outcome of convenience and more diplomacy than the result of any sense of obligation.

The action that must be taken by a state includes the preventive action on land, the pilot’s effort in performing certain police duties during the flight, and the states action to arrest, imprison, and to process the case by bringing the hijackers to court. Besides, the state’s action in resolving aircraft hijacking is also carried out by extraditing the hijackers provided that the states have established extradition agreement.

There is exigency to deal with this issue of suppressing the crime of hijacking. Since many states still do not prepare to take stringent measures and to present state of international relations and affairs, preventive measures. A special Session of the U.N General Assembly should be convened, and efforts made to point out the loopholes in the existing law.



  • KAPOOR, S.K. International Law & Human Rights, 12th Edition. Allahabad: Central Law Agency, 2003.
  • Malconm N. Shaw, International Law (Library of Congress Cataloging, Cambridge University Press, 8th Edn., 2018).
  • Dr. H.O Agarwal, International Law & Human Rights (Central Law Publication, Allahabad, 22nd Edn.,2019).


Aircraft Hijacking and International Law by S.K Agrawala, Volume 39|Issue No. 4, available at:

Aircraft Hijacking: its cause and cure by Alona E. Evans, Volume 63|Issue No.4, pp.695-710 published by Cambridge University Press, available at:

The Contagiousness of Aircraft Hijacking by Robert T. Holden, Volume No.91|Issue No.4, pp.874-904, published by the University of Chicago Press, available at:



[1] Quotes of famous people, available at: (visited on February 2, 2022).

[2] Jayatigupta, “Aerial Hijacking and the International Law”, available at: (visited on February 2, 2022).

[3] Anushka Sign & Mahima Yadav, “ Aircraft Hijacking and International Law”, available at: (visited on February 2, 2022).

[4] International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 1944.

[5] Article 1(a) of the Hague Convention 1970.

[6] Hijacking, available at: (visited on February 2, 2022).

[7] ‘The world’s longest and most spectacular hijacking’, available at: (visited on February 4, 2022).

[8] Dbq 14 Essay, available at: (visited on February 4, 2022).

[9] The world’s most infamous aeroplane hijackings, available at: (visited on February 4, 2022).

[10] World’s First Skyjacking, available at: (visited on February 4, 2022).

[11] ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 26965, available at: (visited on February 5, 2022).

[12] Ibid

[13] Air hijacking, available at: (visited on February 6, 2022). 

[14] Aircraft Hijacking: Some Domestic and International Responses, available at: (visited on February 6, 2022).

[15] Ibid

[16] ‘You don’t understand, Captain. He has a gun’: The hijacking of Flight 1320, available at: (visited on February 7, 2022).

[17] All Nippon Airways Flight 857, available at: (visited on February 7, 2022).

[18] Terror on flight 9463, available at: (visited on February 7, 2022).

[19] No Injuries After Alaskan Caravan Passenger Grabbed the Controls, available at:,pushed%20the%20aircraft’s%20nose%20down. (visited on February 7, 2022)

[20] Ibid

[21] Robert T. Holden, “The Contagiousness of Aircraft Hijacking”  19 JSTOR 874-904 (1986).

[22] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Hijacking Prompts Beijing Shake-Up”, The New York Time, Oct 10, 1990.

[23] KAPOOR, S.K. International Law & Human Rights, 12th Edition. Allahabad: Central Law Agency, 2003.

[24] He hijacked to meet his love, available at: (visited on February 7, 2022).

[25] Alona E. Evans,“Aircraft Hijacking: What Is To Be Done?” 66 JSTOR 819-822 (1972).

[26] Ibid

[27] Dr. H.O Agarwal, International Law & Human Rights (Central Law Publication, Allahabad, 22nd Edn.,2019).

[28] Tokyo Convention,1963, available at: (visited on February 8, 2021).

[29] The Objectives of the Tokyo Convention, available at: (visited on February 8, 2021).

[30] Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, available at: (visited on February 9, 2022).

[31] Ibid

[32] Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, available at: (visited on February 9, 2022).


[34] Mark Footer, “Flight of no return: How a Cathay Pacific plane became the first hijacked commercial airliner”, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[35] Plane hijacked en route from Cyprus to Turkey, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[36] Turkish plane hijacked, six hostages held, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[37] Pan Am flight 103, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[38] Pan Am 103 Bombing, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[39] Pan Am Flight 103 Publications Collection, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[40] D.B. Cooper Hijacking, available at:,unsolved%20mysteries%20in%20FBI%20history. (Visited on February 10, 2022).

[41] DB Cooper: What happened during infamous plane hijacking?, available at: (Visited on February 10, 2022).

[42] Timeline of the September 11 Attacks, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[43] Flight 93’s target on 9/11, available at: (visited on visited on February 10, 2022). 

[44] Why Vajpayee govt chose to swap 3 terrorists with 160 passengers of IC 814 two decades ago, available at: (visited on February 10, 2022).

[45] Raghav Ohri, “1999 Kandahar Hijacking: Only one behind bars; real perpetrators still untried” The Economic Times, August 30, 201

[46] IC 814 hijack: How Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s brother planned Indian Airlines hijack in 1999, available at: (visited on Febuary 10, 2022).

[47] Security analysis of hijacking systems: Attacks, limitations, and recommendations, available at: (February 11, 2022).


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