ROWDY airline passengers are being reported for drunken or disruptive behaviour onboard Ulster flights on average almost once every week, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
The shock statistics have raised concerns about mid-air safety and sparked urgent calls for both airline carriers and airport authorities to take a tougher stance over the sale of alcohol in airports and onboard flights.
In the first half of this year there were 26 disruptive passenger incidents involving flights to or from Northern Ireland which were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority.
Over half of those incidents (14) involved alcohol. One involved violence towards a crew member and another involved violence towards a passenger.
The issue of flight security was heightened recently following terror alert warnings by the security services after an alleged terror plot to blow up planes mid-flight was foiled.
The statistics, released by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the Belfast Telegraph following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, come just weeks after this paper revealed that a plane was forced to abort its take-off at Belfast International Airport after two passengers caused havoc on a flight to Prague.
The drunken duo from the Czech Republic boarded a plane where they caused chaos, forcing the plane - which was taxiing along the runway for take-off - to have to return to its stand.
They were removed by airport police before being arrested and charged by the PSNI.
They both received suspended prison sentences for a series of offences, including behaving in a disorderly manner while on board an aircraft, entering an aircraft while drunk and entering a restricted zone of an aerodrome.
The CAA statistics, which cover the period between 2003 and up to the end of July 2006, show that just under half of all incidents recorded during that time involved alcohol.
A total of 99 incidents were recorded by the CAA's Disruptive Passenger Reporting Scheme during that time and 48 involved drink.
Five included violence to a crew member and five involved violence to other passengers.
The SDLP's transport spokeswoman Margaret Ritchie said she was concerned that so many incidents appear to involve alcohol.
"I would like to know what the airport authorities are going to do about this. It is a very frightening experience for passengers when disruptive people are allowed to engage in drunken and anti-social behaviour. "
She added: "I think there must be a greater liaison between the police, airline carriers and airport authorities to ensure that this type of behaviour is stamped out."