AFP launches Operation Sleigh ahead of holiday travel

Editor’s note: Vision of AFP and Santa joining airport patrol is now available via Hightail.

The AFP is launching Operation Sleigh today (Tuesday 20 December, 2022) to ensure the festive cheer is maintained at Australia’s nine largest airports during the busy Christmas travelling season.

The nation-wide Operation Sleigh will lead to an increase of police patrols at airports through December and January to provide protection and assistance to the travelling public.

It follows a recent spate of incidents at airports across the country, with the AFP charging more than 360 alleged offenders with about 520 offences at airports this year.

In addition, the AFP responded to almost 20,000 incidents at AFP protected airports around Australia throughout 2022.

The patrols will target intoxication, offensive and disruptive behaviour in the air and on the ground along with possession of prohibited items such as illicit drugs and weapons.

Offenders can face up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Operation Sleigh is being rolled out at each of the nine airports around the country with each local operation named after one of Santa’s reindeer:

  • Canberra Airport - Op Rudolf
  • Perth Airport - Op Dasher
  • Darwin Airport - Op Dancer
  • Sydney Airport - Op Prancer
  • Gold Coast Airport - Op Vixen
  • Brisbane Airport - Op Comet
  • Adelaide Airport - Op Cupid
  • Cairns Airport - Op Donner
  • Melbourne Airport - Op Blitzen

AFP Commander Gail McClure said some lucky AFP members had been joined by one special new recruit to launch Operation Sleigh at Melbourne Airport today.

“The AFP Airport Police Teams were thrilled to receive a boost to their numbers, with Santa himself joining the squad as a new recruit out on patrol across Melbourne Airport,” Commander McClure said.

“We did put him through his paces, although we will have to do something about the big red suit and make sure he’s got the right uniform for next time.”

Commander Gail McClure said the increased patrols across AFP airports around the country was an important measure to provide protection and assistance to the travelling public as passenger numbers surge during December and January.

“It’s a very exciting time and there is plenty to celebrate following the pandemic and the lifting of international travel restrictions, however we want to remind everyone that the airport isn’t the place to continue your Christmas parties at,” she said.

“Airports are not nightclubs. Intoxicated individuals on flights or in the terminal can be charged. Passengers who are convicted of an act of violence at an airport or endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight face serious penalties.”

There are more than 500 members within the AFP’s Airport Uniform Police, Protection Operations Response Teams and Counter Terrorism First Response team across nine domestic airports.

The AFP has 49 explosive detection dogs operating and 25 canines capable of detecting cash, drugs, firearms and devices.

Op RUDOLF - Canberra Airport, Head of Aviation, Michael Thomson:

“It’s the best time of the year – let’s keep it that way! We want to see everyone getting to their destinations safely. Don’t forget, kindness is contagious.  Have a great festive season!”

Op BLITZEN - Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation, Jim Parashos:

“We’re looking forward to welcoming travellers through Melbourne Airport during the summer holidays. We’re expecting another busy period, so we encourage people to be respectful of other passengers and staff as they head off on their holidays. As always, we appreciate the support of the AFP to ensure a safe and secure travelling environment.”

Op CUPID - Adelaide Airport Managing Director, Brenton Cox:

“For the first time in three years our airport will be an incredibly busy place over Christmas. The AFP does a wonderful job keeping our customers safe and secure, and in return we hope travellers can do the right thing, remain patient and calm, and be respectful towards other airport users and staff.”

Op DASHER - Perth Airport’s Chief Operating Officer Scott Woodward:

“The safety and security of passengers and workers is our highest priority at Perth Airport. The important work that the Australian Federal Police across the airport estate is a crucial component of this.

“We will continue to work closely with the AFP to keep everyone safe over the busy holiday period.”

Op PRANCER - Sydney Airport Chief Operations Officer, Sidone Thomas:

“We are excited to welcome passengers for what will be our biggest Christmas since 2019, and want to thank everyone in advance for their patience and for treating staff and fellow passengers with kindness and respect.”

Op COMET – Brisbane Airport Corporation’s Stephen Beckett:

“Safety and security are at the heart of everything we do at Brisbane Airport so we welcome any initiative to ensure all our passengers have a great Christmas travel experience. We commend the AFP on this proactive approach and look forward to seeing the impact of Operation Comet this festive season.”

Op DONNER - Cairns Airport Chief Executive Officer Richard Barker:

“Everyone can do their part to make this year’s festive season one to remember, for all the right reasons. We know the next couple of months are going to be busy and we appreciate the AFP’s ongoing vigilance and support. The Cairns Airport team thank the public for their patience and respect, and wish all travellers a Merry Christmas.”

There can be occasions where the AFP is called to an incident – either on a plane or a terminal – but has not been informed of all the details before they arrive.

For these reasons, we encourage the public to share information or footage with the AFP to help with incidents.

Separately, in March last year, the AFP re-booted its Airport Watch program as travel increased post-COVID 19. Airport Watch aims to educate those working in and traveling through major airports about what should be reported and how.

The AFP encourages the public to call Airport Watch on 131 237 if they see or hear something unusual while working or travelling through one of the nation’s major airports.

Suspicious activity or unusual behaviour includes:

  • A person observed displaying an unusually keen interest in security procedures;
  • A person observed recording or taking photos in or around sensitive areas of the airport;
  • Anyone acting strangely or in an unusual manner;
  • Anyone heard asking questions to gain information about the airport;
  • and Anyone trying to gain unauthorised access to secure areas.

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