Banning mentally ill passengers from flying 'illegal, unworkable'

Banning people with a mental illness from flying in the name of aviation security would be illegal and unworkable, say health and civil liberties experts.

Yesterday, terrorism expert Clive Williams said that people with violent tendencies resulting from a mental illness were over-represented in domestic aviation problems. He suggested putting people who were regarded as mentally unstable on a watch list.

"I know that's going to be a bit controversial but if aviation security is the key issue, then clearly we should be careful about who we allow to fly," he told The Australian.

"I'm not saying that people who are perhaps mentally disordered but passive, and not causing any problems, shouldn't be allowed to fly."

However, Barbara Hocking, executive director of SANE Australia, said the plan was “totally unworkable”.

"People with mental illness are easy targets," she told

"The money spent on the bureaucracy in such an exercise would be much better spent on support for people with mental illness. Mental health workers are overworked and under-resourced and to start liaising with aviation authorities will distract them from their core business."

Ms Hocking said the number of cases involving a person with a mental illness being violent on a plane were "so few that it doesn't justify the ban".

Figures from the Office of Transport Security reveal there were 460 reported disruptive incidents on domestic flights in 2009, representing 0.0009 per cent of passengers. Of these, 25 involved alleged assault and 157 involved disruptive passengers. A further 107 involved intoxicated passengers and 48 cases were people trying to smoke on an aircraft.

"Mental illness is episodic, people do recover, so when do you come off the list?"

President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, said the idea was "extraordinary" and clearly in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

"The whole thing is absurd. What's really sick and sorry about this is there's recently been a lot of work to remove discrimination and comments like this set us back a decade or more," he said.

"What we need to do is make sure that we deal with anyone who is violent on a plane. The cause of that violence is not the issue.

"Discrimination does not make any sense. Just because someone is mentally ill does not mean they are going to hijack a plane.”

Professor Williams made his comments at the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations security council meeting in Sydney.

(Published by Herald Sun – May 18, 2010)

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