Home Office begins consultation on ‘Airside Alcohol Licensing’ at international airports in England and Wales

The Home Office, on 1 November 2018, began a consultation and call for evidence, which runs until 1 February 2019. Based on the scrutinization of the Licensing Act 2003 (the ‘Act’) by a House of Lords Select Committee in 2016, the Home Office is looking closely at whether the exemption for Airside premises under s.173 of the Act should be revoked. Whilst the Select Committee looked at the Act in the round, it took a particular interest in disruption caused by drunken airline passengers and the implications of airside alcohol consumption for crime, disorder and public safety at international airports in England and Wales. Members argued that current industry led initiatives have not done enough to tackle the issue of drunk and disruptive airline passengers.

The call for evidence is being conducted in order to understand:

  • the true scale of the problem of drunk and disruptive passengers;
  • the extent to which airports and airlines use effectively the statutory powers and other measures to address the problem;
  • the impact the proposed application of the Act would have on addressing the problem of drunk and disruptive passengers;
  • the impact that the proposed application would have economically on those parties that will be affected by the changes; and
  • the practicalities of administering the licensing regime airside.

Studies have been conducted that show the disruption that has occurred due to airside exemptions from the Act and, whilst numerically the incidences are not very high in number, they do have a significant impact on the airlines and costs in terms of re-routing flights and attempting to control the individuals in question, especially when you consider that the greatest disruption usually occurs after passengers have boarded the plane. Further, one alarming point: when Sussex Police conducted test sales at Gatwick airport, all but one premises sold alcohol to those who were underage.

As airside premises are exempt from the Act, they do not require a premises licence that sets out conditions that must be adhered to, such as Challenge 21 and 25 policies, or that the sale of alcohol be ancillary to food, or that substantial food offerings must be available to customers. It also means that there is, whilst it is still illegal to sell alcohol to those who are underage, no offence of selling alcohol to anyone who has drunk too much. The implementation of the Act to airside premises would make it easier for all parties to control the activities in this way to prevent disorder and disruption.

There are certain issues that would need to be resolved if the Act were to apply to airside premises. Notably, this includes the Late-Night Levy and the fact that there is currently no way a council could exempt airports from it, and how to reconcile the airport authorities’ own restrictions on what can and can’t occur within the airports themselves. However, these could be amended through statutory instrument and through subtle changes in council licensing policies with regards to airports. Licensing could follow a symbiosis with the airport authorities own internal policies regarding the use of units within the building.

It is worth remembering that the exemption for airside premises came into force at a time when licensing laws were more heavily restrictive in terms of operating hours and the licensing regime itself was controlled by the courts and not councils. It is possible under the current licensing regime to sell alcohol twenty-four hours a day. Most operators with concessions will be large multi-national and national groups who can afford the fees. There is no exemplary reason why airside operators should not be treated in the same way as everyone else. Licensed premises in railway stations do not have this exemption. If they can demonstrate that opening very late/early will not cause crime and disorder (which, with in house airport security available, is a possibility) and public nuisance, they will still be granted the hours they desire. In the main they won’t have to worry about representations from local residents, which is one of the main reasons licence applications are refused in whole or in part.

The Consultation Paper and how to respond can be found here.

Niall McCann

Niall McCann

Partner – Head of Licensing & Gaming

+44 (0) 20 7580 5721


This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.