BA long-haul pilot tells Guardian it was a mistake to keep Mubenga on board once he began struggling with his escorts
Jimmy Mubenga died during deportation from the UK. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
The use of commercial aircraft to transport deportees has been called into question by a British Airways pilot following the death of Jimmy Mubenga.
A BA long-haul pilot told the Guardian that it was a mistake to keep Mubenga on board a passenger service once he began struggling with his escorts. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the pilot said that the prospect of restraining a passenger for the duration of a nine-hour flight would have been unacceptable to senior crew.
“We are legally responsible for safety, security and good order on board our aircraft. We must act if any of those are at risk. If the passenger is not accepting the situation he has been placed in, then a scheduled passenger aircraft is clearly not an appropriate method of transport. Besides, you cannot hold someone in their seat for eight to nine hours down to Luanda, and you certainly cannot restrain them for eight to nine hours.”
A BA spokesperson said the airline was obliged to carry deportees under the 1971 Immigration Act if the Home Office requested it. “Like all airlines, we must comply with the UK deportation law under the 1971 Immigration Act.” Virgin Atlantic and BMI have also transported deportees this year, while in 2009 nearly 2,000 people were deported on charter flights to destinations including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.
The government has spent more than £100m on flights deporting failed asylum seekers, foreign nationals and immigration offenders in the last five years. In 2008-9 alone, £8.2m was spent on chartered flights and £18.6m on scheduled flights – a total of £26.8m and up from £20.4m the previous year.
According to BA guidelines on carrying deportees, Mubenga should have been treated as a normal passenger unless he was under restraint. The guidelines state: “If the deportee is under restraint, then the rules relating to prisoners apply, otherwise, in most other respects, deportees should be treated as normal passengers.”
If Mubenga was not under restraint when he was escorted on to the aircraft on Tuesday night then he could have been classified as a passenger. However, according to one eyewitness handcuffs were used by G4S security guards to restrain him while the aircraft was still on the ground. BA guidelines state: “Physical restraint of a passenger can be applied only on the express instructions of the captain and only whilst airborne. The captain has the duty and the legal authority to order physical restraint when, in his judgment, it is essential to preserve the safety of the aircraft, the crew or other passengers.”
The guidelines for prisoners, or for deportees who are under restraint as they board, state that the prisoner should not be served alcohol and must be seated “off the aisle, near a toilet and, if handcuffed, away from emergency exits.”
The Guardian, Friday 15 October 2010 20.08 BST
Find this story at 15 October 2010
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