Liability of Airport Authority for Aircraft Theft

The Privy Council in the case of Airport Authority v Western Air Ltd (decided on 9th November 2020) found an Airport Authority liable in negligence for failing to provide adequate security leading to the theft of an aircraft.

The key question before the Privy Council was whether the Appellant Airport Authority had created the risk of danger that a third party might cause harm to the claimant by reason of the defects in the system of security at the airport.

The Privy Council answered the question in the affirmative. According to Lord Kerr, “the Appellant (i.e. the Airport Company) had created the risk of danger that third parties might cause harm to the claimant by reason of the defects in the system of security at the airport and it had assumed a relevant responsibility towards the respondent by dint of it being the sole agency which had the means to provide adequate protection for the aircraft.”

The Airport Company, amongst others, argued it could not be held liable in this case for the loss/theft of the aircraft since the theft was not something that was foreseeable. Whiles the privy council agreed with the Airport Company on the point that the theft of an aircraft was hardly foreseeable, the council went on to note that “although the theft of an aircraft is a highly unusual occurrence, the exact nature of harm need not to be foreseen. It is enough that the possibility of harm to unguarded aircraft was to be anticipated.” The Council found as a matter of fact that the Airport Company’s perimeter wall was damaged at some point and this damage could have provided a leeway for an outsider to enter into the Airport and steal the aircraft.

Another fact which informed the Board’s decision was that the Airport Company was the sole agency responsible for providing security at the Airport; and as a result, its failure to provide the adequate security was directly linked to the theft of the aircraft. In the mind of the Board, the Airport Company “was uniquely placed to provide the necessary protection” which it failed to do so. “It must have been well aware that it fell to it alone to make sure that the aircraft within its property were safe. The mere fact that the aeroplane was stolen shows that the security system was deficient”, Lord Kerr noted.

Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash

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