View Full Version : Prison passengers concern Qantas

5th Jan 2004, 21:50
Tues "Melbourne Age"

Prison passengers concern Qantas
By Robert Wainwright
January 6, 2004

Qantas says passenger safety is being compromised because the airline is not given adequate information about hundreds of prisoners, including illegal immigrants being deported, boarding its planes.

The head of Qantas security, Geoff Askew, said the airline had flown more than 4800 prisoners, most under escort, on its domestic and international flights between January 2002 and last September - a rate of almost nine a day.

But at least a third were unescorted, many of them illegal immigrants who were simply led to a customs area to be deported and allowed to board without airlines knowing their history.

The issue has arisen during heightened concerns about terrorism and the security of Australia's aviation industry.

Mr Askew has told a federal parliamentary committee investigating aviation security that his company regards the issue as "the single greatest risk to our operations outside terrorism".

He said Qantas carried 3092 prisoners in 2002, 1906 of whom were escorted.

Between January 1 and September 2003 Qantas carried 1741 prisoners, 1065 of whom were escorted.

He said it was vital for airlines to be appropriately advised by the authorities when prisoners were to be taken on their aircraft.

Mr Askew said Qantas accepted that not all prisoners posed a risk to its operations but the company needed sufficient information on them, regardless of their status, in order to make an informed assessment as to whether there was any potential risk to its passengers and staff.

Mr Askew said the airline was having difficulty making security assessments because of a lack of information.

"Is it an extradition regarding an armed robbery or is it an extradition regarding gangland organised crime? That sort of information is necessary for us to make any informed decision as to whether we should or should not carry that person," he said.

"I think we have carried persons in the past whom perhaps we would not have, had we been given all the information."

His concerns were supported by the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia in a submission to the inquiry. The board said airlines were not told if prisoners had a history of violence, had ever engaged in sexually related crime, had a drug problem, attempted an escape or had been involved in violence while in detention.

Government agencies gave scant regard to airline interests and often failed to give adequate notice or details, the board said. "Of most concern to airlines is the routine failure of the Department of Immigration . . . to give advance notification of supervised and/or monitored departures," it said.

"It is critical that airlines be informed of all categories of departure when the passenger has been detained in custody prior to departure. This will permit the airline to make an informed assessment regarding the passenger and the potential of the passenger to jeopardise the safety of the flight," it said.