All you need to know about aerial hijacking

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Meaning of Aerial Hijacking

International terrorism has been a serious issue, for many years. This kind of terrorism is horrifying in many senses. It directly-indirectly indulges in the affairs of the state. Such terrorists usually acquire transportation means as their weapons.

All kinds of transportation systems help facilitate such international terrorism. When we talk about international terrorism, the most popular term that pops up in our mind is; aerial hijacking.” Aerial hijacking is also known as ‘skyjacking’ in some parts of the world. It basically means, seizing aircraft without any legal permission, or legal authorities. It is an unlawful seizure! It is usually done by an individual or a group of persons.

Aerial hijacking is a very terrible disease for any country. Apart from the actual risks that a prudent person can foresee, there are certainly many other problems associated with it. Aerial hijackings are done for multiple several reasons, but in the end, what it ruins the most is; foreign relations between the two countries.

Two states are at risk of losing their healthy relationships. With it, aerial hijacking puts the risk on every human being who is travelling in the aircraft. And with this, not only the safety of aircraft is being hampered, but the trust of passengers in the aircraft and airlines is also hampered to a great extent. This severely creates a problem for aircraft companies. [1]

The first ever skyjacking was conducted in the year 1931 in Peru. The first Asian aerial hijacking was in the year 1948, on a flight travelling to Hong Kong. This was a very threatening hijacking where all the passengers were brutally killed. However, not every time, passengers are killed. Then in the following decade, 15 to 16 hijackings were successful and the world was astonished. As time flew, numbers increased incredibly and around 50 hijackings were done, by the time conventions and treaties came up with a solution. [2]

Reasons for Aerial Hijacking

Every hijacking was done with a particular motive. There was a reason to be fulfilled, before doing an aerial hijacking. It always depends upon, who is doing it, what country it is, when it was done, what was done while hijacking and how long it took. However, after significant research, the following reasons were found to be the most reasonable and common among all the aerial hijackings to date. Those were:

Personal issues

Sometimes, people think they have some personal issues or grudges, that could be resolved by taking away others’ happiness only. When people develop such feelings within their minds, then it becomes very easy for them to choose paths that are devastating and brutal for others.

Such kind of acts is usually done by mentally sick or mentally challenged or mentally driven people. They feel that their happiness could be restored by grabbing someone else’s possessions. Sometimes, poor people also come up with such acts, so that they could steal something so possible that could drive away their poverty. [3]

Political issues

This has proved to be the most common one. Political issues have become the basic motive for conducting aerial hijacking. These hijackers aim to use the passengers of aircraft as severe ‘hostages’. They do so for, either monetary benefits or “because of some political concession by top authorities”.[4]

In some cases, hijackers risk the life of certain people and in return demand certain incentives. They agree to scrap the hijacking only when their demands are fulfilled. In one of the cases, hijackers demanded their fellow friends to be released from the jails of Israel, while they would also relieve the hijacking. [5]

Using as refugees

This happens when the hijacker himself wants to change the nation, and settle in another nation because maybe he is unhappy with the present government of his nation or maybe some other reason. This tempts him to commit a crime by the way of aerial hijacking. [6]

International customary law and aerial hijacking

Predators have said that the international law regarding air safety and air technicalities was made back then in 1910. Certain conventions were made this year, regarding the regulation of aerial navigation safety. This convention said that every state had the right to exclusive sovereignty and that would not only include territorial land but the air above the lands too.

But this convention was not enough to stop any aerial hijacking. There was no severe punishment for aerial hijackers. There was a need to have strict regulations, and regulations which mean such international laws that would put hijackers in double thoughts before committing a such offence. [7]

Modern-day customary law has evolved after a lot of happenings. This law follows two basic norms:

  1. Every nation is obliged to ensure that its national land is prevented from any kind of harmful activities. This also includes that the state is being protected from not being used by any person in a manner that is detrimental to the affairs of another state. This norm says that it is the duty of every nation to protect ‘territorial sovereignty’ between other nations so that they can prevent and protect international relations with them.
  2. Another norm says that every nation should owe a certain duty to the international community. Every country should ensure that its citizens do not indulge in activities that would hinder the basic rights of a human being. Every nation should ensure that they participate in the protection of human rights. [8]

The International Court of Justice in the Teheran Case [9]held that;

“Wrongfully to deprive human beings of their freedom and to subject them to physical constraint in conditions of hardship is in itself manifestly incompatible with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations as well as with the fundamental principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”[10]

Cases of Aerial Hijacking

To date, a number of aerial hijackings have been conducted. Mostly successful and some failed hijackings were also witnessed. Some were harmful yet others could not succeed in their missions. But, when we remember all of them, the following cases come out as the most devastating and hurtful ones:

Aerial hijacking of May 1, 1961

This was the first hijacking in the United States of America. The aircraft was flying from Miami to Florida and was forced to land in Cuba by the hijackers. And by the end of this year, another four aircraft were also hijacked and forced to land in Cuba. These cases were politically motivated.

Aerial hijacking of June 10, 1973

The Royal Nepal Airlines was badly hijacked by only three people. The plane entered only seven meters from India, and it was hijacked and sent back to Kathmandu.

Russia, 2007

Aircraft flying from Moscow to Geneva was hijacked by a drunken person. The hijacking started in Prague and became famous because it was singled handily handled. However, the hijacker was arrested, no harm was made and passengers were sent back safely then.

Turkey, 2007

This famous case was highlighted too much in the media when it came out that a flight was hijacked by two Arab students. Two students made it to the aerial hijacking of aircraft flying from Nicosia to Istanbul.  In this case, also, the students were arrested with no harm to even a single passenger.

Above mentioned were just a few cases. The numbers declined gradually as we entered the 21st century. This century proved to be bad for all the aerial hijackers though. However, it happened because security became much stricter than ever after and countries started to indulge in International cooperation also one of the reasons was such decline. [11]

September 11 attack

Out of all the cases that we have heard of, the most horrifying one was still the September, 11 attacks. This act terrified the whole world. The whole judiciary system was shaken up. Every country was out to resolve this matter. The ICJ revealed some very important statements after this attack. Brief facts about the act:

  1. This aerial hijacking took place on September 11, 2001.
  2. This incident took place in the United States of America.
  3. A total of four aircraft were hijacked, all together, on the same date and nearly at the same time.
  4. All four aircraft were taken to different locations.
  5. Two of them were taken to New York City. One was taken to Washington DC. And the last one sadly crashed, near Pittsburgh.
  6. Around 3500 people were killed in these four attacks.

It was one of the saddest and most hurtful attacks one could witness. After this many amendments and changes were made to prevailing laws and customs to assure that a similar situation does not arise any time in future. Many conclusions were made then, after seeing the result of these attacks.  [12]


Aerial hijacking started to show its speed in the 20th century. The 21st century came up with the hope of lessening the number of such attacks. However, in the present time, there are hardly any attacks, but there was a time when 80 attacks were framed that too in only 10 years. The reasons, as we have seen, were many. The most common one was always political issues and political motives.

To ensure that such attacks do not take place in the future, the nations need to unite for the same and stand for human integrality and the rights and well-being of humans. The nations not only face monetary problems but with it, they are also charged with many other emotional and other problems, which could never be restored.

End Notes

[1] Indian Review of Advanced Legal Research, The Menace Of Aerial Hijacking And The International Air Laws,

[2] Jenkins, J. Philip (2014, July 25). Hijacking. Encyclopedia Britannica.

[3] Indian Review of Advanced Legal Research, The Menace Of Aerial Hijacking And The International Air Laws,

[4] Aircraft Hijacking and International Law, Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Volume 39, Issue 4, Page no. 09

[5] Jenkins, J. Philip (2014, July 25). Hijacking. Encyclopedia Britannica.

[6] Indian Review of Advanced Legal Research, The Menace Of Aerial Hijacking And The International Air Laws,

[7] Rajput, R. (1990). International Conventions On Aerial Hijacking: An Approach To Combat Terrorism. The Indian Journal of Political Science, 51(1), 98-125. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from

[8] Aerial Hijacking and the International Law,

[9] 1980

[10] Teheran Case, 1980

[11] Aerial Hijacking and the International Law,

[12] Aerial Hijacking and the International Law,

By: Kratvi Kawdia, a student at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.

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